5 Things to Know About a Career in Interventional Radiology
Thank you to our guest author Dr. Barbara Hamilton for this article. Dr. Hamilton has built a successful interventional radiology career, and she also authors the popular blog Tired Superheroine.
There are so many specialties in medicine, how do you know which is right for you?
Consider yourself lucky if you’ve been introduced to interventional radiology (IR). Unfortunately, it’s a specialty that doesn’t get much air time in medical schools.
I was fortunate to find it early in my clinical education, and once I did, there was no looking back. It’s been such a wonderful path. Because of that, I want to encourage others to consider the field too.
Here are 5 things to know about a career in interventional radiology.
1. Should you become an interventional radiologist?
From the first lecture on interpreting a chest x-ray, I was hooked on medical imaging. The visual and spatial thinking involved really turned my brain on!
Later, during a radiology elective, I encountered the wizardry of interventional radiology. It’s a field that allows doctors to navigate through the body under imaging guidance to diagnose and treat conditions. This often happens in a single session.
It’s like magic, or video games, if you prefer. My husband likens it to high-end plumbing. It’s all of these things and more.
How do you know if you’d make a good interventional radiologist?
- You’re a visually-oriented learner
- Anatomy & physiology is fun for you
- You like working with your hands
- Minimally invasive therapies are preferable to traditional surgery, in your opinion
- You like lightbulb moments (diagnosing)
- Fixing problems (intervening) brings you joy
- You work well under pressure!
- You enjoy being a team leader
- Interfacing with other specialties is enjoyable, from hospitalists to surgeons, oncologists and beyond
2. Some unique joys of a career in interventional radiology
Daily thrills can include but are not limited to:
- Draining pus
- Image-guided biopsy
- Dialysis access management
- Pain intervention
- Fixing veins
- Fixing arteries
- Trauma embolization
- Cancer therapy
- Saving lives
- Accepting accolades
Amazing perks of interventional radiology:
- The innovation inherent to our field
- The unique lexicon and neologisms that come with it
- The adventurous, supportive spirit of our community
- The pride in providing sophisticated, minimally invasive treatments
- Being able to save a life (or improve the quality of one)
3. Challenges that are unique to interventional radiology
One challenge we face is the lack of understanding of what we do, even on the part of medical colleagues. Despite proselytizing about our offerings, I still frequently surprise my colleagues:
“You can do that?”
Since our specialty spans many body systems, it is harder to put in a specific box.
Further, it’s not a core elective at many medical schools. Because of that, doctors get only a superficial introduction to what we do, thinking we do primarily PICC lines, for example. Many educators are currently working to change that.
It’s an important privilege to explain what we do to lay people. Many patients will not even be offered a minimally invasive procedure, depending on their location and local referral patterns.
Positive experiences on the part of referring physicians and their patients can help to get the word out about interventional radiology.
Organizations like the Interventional Initiative and the Society of Interventional Radiology create educational content to help spread the word about interventional radiology both inside and outside the medical community.
Another challenge our specialty faces is the lack of diversity. Ours is a technically-focused, competitive field which involves radiation exposure and emergent cases on call.
These factors have been blamed for the paucity of women in our field, which number just 8-10%, depending on the region. Interventional Radiology is an outstanding specialty for women, but the “boy’s club” image is doing us no favors in recruiting them.
Therefore, I’ve made it my personal mission (through my blog, TiredSuperheroine.com) to be an example of what is possible as a woman and mother in this field.
4. How to thrive in clinical interventional radiology practice
Although there is a trend of enterprising interventional radiologists starting outpatient-based labs, the majority are still hospital-based. They may be either directly employed by the hospital, or they may work as part of a diagnostic radiology group.
That’s why aside from honing your craft and learning to be a leader, it’s important to learn to negotiate.
I’ve negotiated frequently in my early career. I started as an employed physician right out of fellowship, and continued as a pregnant woman on bed-rest, and as an independent contractor.
You can read more about these formative experiences and my most important lessons on my blog.
5. Personal finance considerations for a career in interventional radiology
Interventional radiology is a well-compensated specialty, so most interventional radiologists will become the chief breadwinner of the family.
With a proactive approach, money can be used as a tool to design an ideal life, complete with work-life balance. That’s why financial literacy is so empowering.
Through my blog, I hope to empower aspiring and early career physicians in this way.
About the Author
Doctor Barbara Hamilton is a physician blogger who helps women in male dominated fields find work-life balance and financial empowerment.
Please leave a comment. What questions do you have for Dr. Hamilton? If you’re an interventional radiologist, what’s something you wish you knew before you started your clinical practice?