It’s getting toward the end of your 3rd year, and you are studying intensely for your core examination. All of a sudden, you get a phone call from your chief resident. He says, ” We are making the schedule for next year. What would you like to do for your senior year radiology electives?” You realize you haven’t thought this through, and you are not sure what to do. He just assigns you to a standard fourth-year schedule.
Believe it or not, this is a situation that often happens to most residents. Choosing your fourth-year electives is not a decision you should take lightly. You should not have the choice made for you, nor should you choose without thinking deeply about what you want. Your senior year elective decisions can have repercussions upon your comfort zones in private practice. This decision can also influence your practice patterns for years to come. Today, we will discuss what not to do when you decide upon your senior schedule, which standard rotations are the best for senior electives, and finally, some innovative ideas for creating rotations on your fourth-year schedule that will really enhance your residency education and your career.
Which Fourth Year Radiology Electives Should You Avoid?
Don’t Repeat Your Fellowship!
When you create a schedule for your fourth year, I recommend avoiding adding scheduled rotations that duplicate your fellowship. Several times, residents have requested six months in mammography when they have already signed up for a mammography fellowship. What’s the point in that? In most residency programs throughout the country, 90 percent of residents eventually do private practice. And, only 10 percent work in academia. So, chances are you will not be working only within your specialty. In fact, according to many articles (1,2,3), most radiology job descriptions want the new radiologist to not only practice in one subspecialty but also to cover other areas within radiology. So, if you decide to do a half year in your fellowship’s subspecialty, you are also decreasing the opportunity to learn subspecialties outside of your comfort zone. And, you are also reducing your desirability for being hired by a private practice.
For instance, if there are two candidates, one who wants only mammography work and another that feels comfortable reading MSK MRI and being sub-specialized in mammography, which candidate will be chosen by a private practice? It’s relatively simple. It’s almost always the one that can do both. You are missing out on a potential opportunity if you choose to duplicate your fellowship.
Avoid What You Already Know
I would also avoid choosing fellowships that are within your comfort zone. If you feel like you know MSK MRI well, it doesn’t make sense to do half the senior year in the same subspecialty. In private practice, you generally do not want to pigeonhole yourself into only a few areas of a subspecialty. A series of fourth-year electives or “mini-fellowships” in only subspecialties that you are well-versed in will limit your ability to learn other subjects and ultimately prevent you from being comfortable in these modalities after you complete a residency.
The Conventional Fourth Year Elective Approach
If you are going down the conventional route of fourth-year electives, there are two routes I would choose. First, it would be reasonable to select an emphasis in an area that you are interested but in which you are not doing your fellowship. Since you will be completing these electives reasonably close in time to looking for full-time radiologist work, you will have a second area of subspecialty confidence and diversify your competencies when looking for a job.
Second, I would choose electives in areas of weakness. Residency is the time to get to know the different subspecialties and get your hands dirty. The more competent you are in all aspects of radiology, the more desirable you will be for private practices. It behooves the budding radiologist to get to the point of basic competency in as many areas as possible.
The Unconventional Fourth Year Elective Choice
What is the difference between a good and a great radiologist? It’s pretty simple. A good radiologist can generally make the correct imaging calls. A great radiologist can make the right call, understand the call’s deep clinical significance, and predict the subsequent patient outcomes. If I had to redo my residency again, I would choose the unconventional radiology elective approach. Why? Because correlating imaging with the practical deepens these great clinical radiology qualities.
So, how do you arrange an elective choice such as this? It definitely will take a bit more work on the part of the radiology resident, and you will have to go out of your way to communicate with other specialty directors. Still, it pays to arrange a few weeks or a month rotating on a medical or surgical rotation with correlative imaging.
Example Of The Unconventional Elective Choice
For example, if you are interested in musculoskeletal radiology, I would highly recommend calling the surgical director of orthopedics and ask him/her if you can watch and participate in the clinical workup of patients, orthopedic surgeries, and the subsequent follow-up of patients. Then, when you work up a patient with a medial meniscal tear, you will have seen the surgery and the after-care follow-up of these patients. You will understand how the imaging fits into the equation and the significance of your imaging calls. The learning that you achieve will stick with you for the rest of your radiology career.
I would also recommend washing, rinsing, and repeating. If you can arrange this elective in multiple subspecialties, in whatever specialty area interests you, it would be a highly effective way to have a tremendous diverse overall fourth-year experience that will last a lifetime. Also, you will have clinical knowledge of the imaged patient that most other radiologists do not have.
Final Thoughts About Fourth Year Radiology Electives
The fourth year of radiology residency is a time to explore in more depth the subspecialties that you have encountered during your first three years. Because you are so close to becoming a board-certified practicing radiologist, fourth-year radiology electives take on a vital significance where the learned subjects will make a difference in your clinical practice. So, please pay attention to creating a tremendous fourth-year elective experience. Don’t squander the opportunity!!!