Why MD-PhDs and Radiology Residency Sometimes Don’t Mix
Getting an MD-PhD is no small achievement. These candidates often take eight, nine, ten or more years to complete their training by the time they apply to medical school. Meanwhile, their friends and colleagues have long since graduated from medical school. And, working on a thesis as a PhD can be brutal. I admire the tenacity it takes to get through this program.
Now, you would think that with all this training, all these applicants would turn into the most incredible radiologist residents. (of course, some are great) However, based on my own experiences and the sentiments of other program directors throughout the country, nothing could be further from the truth. And, let me tell you why.
Too Detail Oriented
MD-PhD training (especially the PhD part) utilizes a whole different philosophy from medicine. These teachers teach with bottoms up approach. You start from all the details and then work your way upward to the whole. On the other hand, in radiology, you start with the general disease or imaging findings and then work your way into the details. These two approaches clash. Concentrating on the features of a hepatic cyst on a CT scan while an aorta actively ruptures can cause real problems for patient care! Imagine the issues misses like this can create when a resident starts his first call.
Decision Paralysis Because They Know Too Much
With some residents in radiology, the problem is they know too little. That is not true for the MD-PhD graduate. Instead, in a way, often, MD-PhD know too much to make a quick decision. They think about cases too profoundly (which of course, is sometimes a good thing). But, sometimes it also leads to decision paralysis. Harping on one imaging study at nighttime for 45 minutes can lead to a backup of cases for the entire call shift. Imagine the constant phone calls from the emergency department when this happens. Getting bogged down in decision making instead of acting can lead to poor outcomes!
In the MD/Ph.D. world, you need to question everything. By doing so, the art of making questions leads to incredible research. But, in the radiology world, we can query some things. However, we do not have the time to question every detail. That doesn’t work well for radiology residents or attendings. We will be working until the cows come home!
Out Of Clinical Practice
Unlike the standard MD pathway, the MD-PhD approach often involves performing their clinical rotations early. So, by the time these residents apply to your program, they have already had three or four years of PhD work without even seeing a patient. It is not uncommon to forget about how to talk to patients and make them happy. Just like PC Richards, customer service is king for radiologists. You need to have the patient skills to be a consummate radiology resident. And, you know what? If you don’t use your skills, you lose them!
Different Knowledge Base During Medical School Training
A typical MD will emphasize learning about disease processes and pathology during the clinical years. By the time she arrives at the radiology program, she knows the basics about medicine. On the other hand, MD-PhD grads may have been profoundly learning about focal adhesion kinase enzymes for years before arriving at the radiology residency. Unfortunately, learning about complex biological chemistry is not directly transferable to the clinical duties of a radiologist. And, it shows when these residents first start!
How Can MD-PhD Grad Be Successful In Clinical Radiology When Their Medical School Training Stacks The Odds Against Them?
Now you can see why some program directors hesitate when they face the decision to accept their next MD-PhD applicant. But, with all of these issues how can you, the average MD/PhD succeed? I mean that is the bottom line, right? If I can’t help out the poor MD-PhD grad than what is the point?
Well, fortunately for the MD-PhD applicant to the clinical radiology program, solving these issues is straightforward. How can you go about making yourself a better candidate? First, you may want to apply to programs that have a bench research component, if that is what you want.
Second, stay connected with clinical medicine. What do I mean by that? Make sure to volunteer to participate in additional clinical rotations when you shift to the PhD portion of your medical school training.
And finally, remember that you need to think a bit differently when you enter your radiology residency program than your PhD training. Creating a connection to the clinical realm will give you an edge!