It may not be Rembrandt. In fact, the images can sometimes look more like a Picasso. But there is an art to becoming a radiologist that comes only with practice.
After years of college, medical school and residency, the hands-on experience of a fellowship gives aspiring radiologists an opportunity to put what they've learned into practice.
For those interested in specializing in musculoskeletal imaging, one of the most sought after fellowship opportunities in the field is the Alabama Sports Medicine Imaging Fellowship sponsored by Vulcan Imaging Associates in partnership with the clinical facilities it serves in the metro area and Gadsden, including the Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center.
"For the two fellowships we offer each year, we receive applications from all over the country," fellowship director Shane A. Wear, MD, said. "Many of the applicants have been athletes themselves. One of the advantages this fellowship offers is that, in addition to seeing a broad range of musculoskeletal conditions that come with aging, accidents and disease, our work with young athletes and sports professionals gives our fellows a greater depth of experience than they might see in most fellowships."
Wear himself was one of the early fellows selected and went on to join the practice.
Shane A. Wear, MD
"Another difference is that this fellowship takes place in a practice rather than an academic setting," Wear said. "For a year, our students work in the day to day environment of a real-world practice and see how it is managed, so they are up to speed when it is time for them to go into practice."
Fellowships begin every July, and candidates for fellowships are selected two years in advance.
"Our fellows have a radiology background from their residency, but in a year in a busy practice like Vulcan Imaging, they will see just about every variation on muscle and joint injuries and related conditions, including some rare diseases and oncology issues. They will gain a much deeper understanding of musculoskeletal radiology than they could acquire in a month's rotation in a general radiology program," Wear said.
In the first few weeks of each fellowship, new fellows observe as Wear and other practitioners perform imaging and image-guided procedures. Then they switch places and Wear supervises as the fellow does the hands-on work.
"Our fellows are very talented and tend to ramp up quickly in handling the imaging and procedures," Wear said. "When they are showing a high degree of proficiency, I move just down the hall where I'm available if something comes up.
"The more subtle aspects of learning come in interpretation. The fellows write up reports of what they see in the images, and then we review every case. If we spot something they missed or didn't get quite right, we go over it together and show them what to look for so they will recognize it next time. Before the year is over, they have become very adept and are ready to go into practice."
Senior radiologist Martin K. Schwartz, MD, has been training fellows for over 20 years and was one of the guiding forces behind the founding of Vulcan Imaging Associates, which provides a full range of radiology services. He is also team radiologist for Alabama football.
"Beyond the basics of procedures and experience, we also teach our fellow the more personal skills necessary to being successful in their careers," Schwartz said. "We stress how important it is to be patient oriented and to build good relationships and provide prompt, accurate service to referring physicians."
Selection of candidates for the fellowships is very competitive.
"We look for people who have a deep interest in the field and a desire to learn. They need to be good with people and have good hand skills so they can be proficient and able to work quickly with people who are often in pain," Schwartz said. "Our fellows have demonstrated a talent for the work, and our job in mentoring them and teaching them in their fellowship year is to guide that talent to its fullest potential."