“My interest in understanding and tackling health disparities has grown while here in Alabama as I have become increasingly aware of the imbalance of opportunities for patients in this state.” Theresa Caridi is an interventional radiologist based at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB; Birmingham, USA), where she is Interventional Radiology (IR) Division director. Caridi’s career has also seen her practise across the USA, take on roles which have included the chair of the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR) Foundation Board of Directors (2022–23), and has now led her, as a passionate patient advocate, to make the move away from academic IR into a principal industry position. She recounts some of the key points on her IR career journey to date for Interventional News.
What attracted you to a career in IR?
Some individuals know exactly what they want to do from the start, but I was not one of those people. I was fascinated by general surgery, but the environment was not ideal at the time I was a student. I was very fortunate to have the benefit of my dad’s perspective—he highlighted for me all those who were switching from surgery into IR and diagnostic radiology (DR). There really was not the reverse happening—nobody switched from radiology into surgery—which I found very telling.
I did a rotation in radiology, and I loved it, including the diagnostic component. It was so fascinating to piece the whole puzzle together for the teams in the hospital. I ultimately attended radiology residency and when I rotated through IR, I loved the ability to combine what I valued in diagnostic work with a procedural solution. I was fascinated by taking care of complex diseases through tiny incisions and sending patients home the same day with very few side-effects. It spoke to me that we could significantly impact someone’s health and healthcare in such a positive way. It could not be more at the forefront of medicine and ideal patient care.
Who were your mentors?
There have been many who have been pillars along my path—mentors, sponsors, and champions. I think it is important to have a variety of mentors of varying career stage, gender, and geography. I always want at least one strong critic who will have the difficult conversations. I am particularly grateful to Jim Benenati, Jim Spies, Cheri Canon, Frank Facchini, David Hahn, and too many peer mentors to count, including, but not limited to, many of the women in IR leadership. Now, I have mentees that began working with me as students and are graduating and becoming peer mentors themselves. Each reference point has its own value.
Could you describe a particularly memorable case of yours?
I was on call while 38–39 weeks pregnant with my second of three children. I was called in overnight for biliary sepsis in a patient with a bile leak needing diversion. The biliary system was non-dilated. My fellow at the time performed a single blind stick into a peripheral biliary duct. When we saw how tiny it was, I hip-checked him and moved my big belly over to first operator for the remainder of the case. I was so far from the table because of my term belly (I ended up having a 9lbs, 1 ounce bundle of joy) that we laughed quite a bit watching me in action. Fortunately, all went smoothly!
How does being associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology (ob/gyn) complement being an IR? What led you to pursue both specialties?
I appreciate having a secondary appointment in ob/gyn. At the minimum, it is a symbol of the collaboration we have with our ob/gyn colleagues at UAB. They have truly met us in the middle where we have treatment overlap. It has been a phenomenal experience for me and I feel it has added a lot of value to a truly comprehensive women’s health practice in IR.
What was it that earned you the 2022 Brewer-Heslin Award for Professionalism in Medicine?
The Brewer-Heslin Award recognises those who exhibit excellence in patient care and is named for the late Alabama Governor Albert P Brewer, and Martin Heslin, a long-time UAB surgeon leader. Brewer made the gift for the endowment in appreciation of the professionalism he observed and admired in Heslin, who had been his surgeon. I was unaware of the nomination for this—it was all done behind the scenes— until I was notified of my award by the dean. As I understand it, my nomination was based on efforts made to create a comprehensive clinical IR service with a focus on quality and improving health disparities. It was really special to accept the award at the white coat ceremony. It is truly a reflection of great mentors, sponsors, champions, and a hard-working team.
“It is my goal to stay true to my purpose and show other women in IR that this path is possible!”
How is practice in Alabama different to practising in Washington DC where you were based before coming to UAB?
The practice is very different in that UAB is a larger organisation with a much bigger catchment area. There is no patient population that we do not treat. My individual practice areas have been heavily supported by colleagues in ob/gyn, urology, and surgery, and I think that has a lot to do with tremendous leaders who have shown a true sense of collaboration.
My interest in understanding and tackling health disparities has grown while here in Alabama as I have become increasingly aware of the imbalance of opportunities for patients in this state. There are so many individuals and organisations doing good work here to bridge these gaps, including our team, which has looked at disparities in fibroid treatments and interventional oncology therapies.
Your father, James G Caridi is a posthumous recipient of an SIR Gold Medal this year—what is it like being a second-generation interventional radiologist? Are there any downsides to it as well as the obvious positives?
Being second-generation to someone like my father is all an upside. Dad believed in helping others, even if in a small way. This made him beloved as a physician and patient advocate, which was only enhanced by his own personal diagnosis. I love that I learned so much about being a patient advocate from him.
Where being a second-generation IR is challenging is similar, I would imagine, as in any career – in the stages of defining yourself, your path, and your individual impact. It is been many years since I have felt that burden. Dad and I had a tremendous mutual respect for one another’s careers and allowed plenty of space between our paths.
What inspired a pivot from a purely academic career to a role in industry? Are there other women in IR who have done this?
I have partnered a fair amount with industry as an individual and via national society work. I have always felt that we need strong industry colleagues and physicians to partner to provide the best products for our patients. Our corporate partners have incredible minds and resources. I think we need to continue to align and have patient-centred voices in leadership within these corporate entities. I admire the companies who are seeking this physician perspective. It was a very difficult decision to pivot away from academia and a traditional IR practice, but I feel it absolutely suits where I am in my career. I have an opportunity for a major stretch— to understand the corporate world, while bringing the physician/patient voice, and all the while, get to continue to have a clinical IR practice. I am thrilled and filled with gratitude to have this opportunity.
I am unaware of other women in IR that have truly worked as a leader in the medical device world. I am amongst amazing male colleagues as I make this pivot, many of whom gave me guidance as I considered this decision. It is my goal to stay true to my purpose and show other women in IR that this path is possible!
What are your hobbies and interests outside of medicine?
I take pride in being a partner to my husband Reggie and a mother of three children (Corinne who is eight years old, Jude, five, and Giuliana, two). I love nothing more than to fill the bellies of loved ones with food from my kitchen (my staple is preparing Italian food, as this is my heritage). Breaking bread with friends and family is the best. A perfect day for me involves exercise, scenic views, time with my family, cooking and sharing wonderful food, and reading (on a chill day) or seeing live entertainment—maybe a concert, Broadway musical, or a ballet—on a more elaborate day.