Almost every program has its method of giving radiology residents the “call” experience. But, by no means is it standardized. Some programs have in-house attendings to back up the residents. Others use nighthawk, some all the time, and others sparsely. Some don’t have much in-house backup at all. And others weigh CT scans more highly than other modalities. And the list of possibilities for any given program can vary on and on. So, what critical elements of the optimal call situation should you look for when you are thumbing through the different radiology programs out there to find the one that best fits you? Of course, I will give you my two cents!
Independence Of Decision Making For The Optimal Call Situation
First and foremost, unless you want to do research permanently and cannot give a lick about making independent decisions, you should consider this priority one when searching for a call experience. At some point during your residency, you must make your own decisions, which need to count. Without this factor, you will never truly leave your first year of residency. The ability to make sound decisions is the difference between a student and a radiologist. So, make sure you have the power to make some decisions in each of the different modalities. Each modality that you cannot make an independent decision for is one less modality your residency will prepare you for when you finish!
Meaningful Decisions To Have Some Affect On Patient Management
To be clear, making a decision is not enough. The decisions that you make need to have some impact on your workup. The pressure of worrying about patients will keep you up at night, both as a resident and as an attending. Making calls that go nowhere will not be enough to satisfy the requirement of independent call. Every radiologist needs to know the consequences of what we do. Otherwise, you will become powerless to make these same decisions in practice.
A Reasonable Quantity Of Cases
It is easily possible to veer on either side of this equation. Some residencies are so overburdened with cases that the resident has no time to think and make decisions. So, too many of the decisions are bad ones. Likewise, if you are working call at a podunk hospital that is about to close from a lack of patient visits each year, this is not such an optimal call situation for learning either. At nighttime, your residency should have enough work to teach you how to become a radiologist. It’s hard to give you an exact number, but it’s usually a little more than you might think!
A Good Mix Of Cases
Some institutions are in counties where everyone comes from the same culture/background. This mix of cases is not such a great recipe for learning about the diversity of radiology. Also, if the program relegates you to read CT only and gives you no opportunities to look at MRI and plain film cases, this situation will not serve you so well. Find a residency where you can get sufficient studies in all modalities and patients.
Nighthawk Vs. Q Night
Finally, I have always been a proponent of the nighthawk system. I believe it will make your residency life a whole lot better for most of you. I find it very hard to adjust my sleep schedule to the every 4th-day rhythm. On the other hand, your body will get used to the nighthawk sequence reasonably quickly so that you no longer have the 4:30 am blues when you cannot see straight. This factor may not matter much for some with different circadian rhythms. But for me, it makes a humongous difference!
The Optimal Call Situation For Radiology Residents
No call situation is perfect. However, to optimize your overnight learning during your radiology residency, find programs where you have independence and meaning in your decisions, a decent number and mix of cases, and a nighthawk rotation. You will discover that these features will enhance your learning once you practice more independently, which will eventually spill over to your work as an attending. At that point, you will feel comfortable in your skin, knowing that you had excellent training!