A few days ago, I had an “aha!” moment that caused me to stay and listen to the radio in the car for an extra 10 minutes in the garage. In the “on-air” discussion, the presenter of the radio show claimed that to create tangible improvements in any skill, we need to learn from our mistakes and set smaller, more reachable defined goals for ourselves. We can’t look at our most impressive role models and realistically say I will be just like them without a plan of action. Instead, we need to create a specific goal with small attainable means to get there. And I believe the same holds for improvement in the field of radiology. I would subscribe to a similar philosophy for all radiology trainees- to improve during radiology residency, you need to “think small.”
Just like we cannot expect to become like George Harrison at the guitar in just a few lessons, we cannot assume that we will practice the highest-quality radiology after a few months of residency or even one year of practice. Improvement and learning occur at a snail’s pace. In radiology, like most complex fields, becoming a consummate professional is a slow incremental process. And, we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves and our residents for not being perfect. Each one of us started without the complete set of knowledge and skills that we have today.
Allow For Small Imperfections
Residents often beat themselves up for missing an individual finding or misinterpreting a case. And, as polished attendings, some of us lose sympathy for the trials and tribulations of the resident. We emphasize the occasional miss, not the learning experience. Attendings may harp on the small mistake and cajole the resident about reading a film in the wrong way. But are these the appropriate courses of action for residents and attendings? Probably not. Being hard on ourselves because of a miss helps no one. And instead of hounding the resident who missed a finding, radiologists should be helping him realize he should be thankful to make the solitary error in a comfortable learning environment rather than as a final decision-maker.
We all need to understand, residents and attendings alike, that to become a consummate professional, we must make a few mistakes along the way. Radiology trainees are no exception.
Remember, only after correcting many minor mistakes throughout residency can the radiology trainee become an incredible radiologist. Radiology mentors should encourage residents to take those leaps of faith rather than hold back and merely rely on the Nighthawks or in-house attendings. Attendings should not throttle the innate drive of radiology trainees to think and do more. We do that by punishing rather than celebrating the small mistake as a tool for learning.
Setting Achievable Specific Goals
In addition to allowing for imperfection, residents must create learning plans focused on learning “small” individual skills to improve, not generalized goals. What do I mean by that? Outline the specific topic areas you want to learn and the resources you will need to cover the material. Don’t just say I will learn all about nuclear medicine this month. Be specific about the how and what. You will never reach the end goal if you don’t set a plan that emphasizes the small stuff. The ability to build upon small goals block by block eventually creates incredible professionals in any field.
Want To Improve During Radiology Residency: Think Small!
The overall completion of generalized tasks does not make a radiologist great. Instead, it is the sum of learning from our mistakes and completing “small” goals over time. So, let us all celebrate the “small.” Ultimately, the sum of “the small”corrections of imperfection and achieving specific milestones builds great radiologists.