By Aine Cryts

Nina Vincoff, MD, didn’t really know much about radiology when she started medical school. Here’s what she did know, however: The daughter of a breast cancer survivor, Vincoff was interested in women’s health and she found it easy to identify with female patients. “I was really attracted to the idea of making the medical journey easier for women,” she tells AXIS Imaging News.

Vincoff, currently chief of the division of breast imaging at New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health, discovered radiology in her third year of medical school–and she’s never really looked back. Her twin-discovery was that she could subspecialize in women’s imaging. “Basically, I love radiology. I love the mix of problems we solve,” she says. Another aspect of her job that she enjoys: Interacting with patients and the physicians who send her patients. 

Radiology’s embrace of technology also attracted her interest in medical school. “Radiology just seemed so exciting,” she says.

Embracing Technological Change

After receiving her medical degree from Philadelphia’s Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Vincoff did an internal medicine internship at Pennsylvania Hospital—University of Pennsylvania Health System. She followed that up with a residency in radiology and a fellowship in ultrasound at University of California San Francisco. Within ultrasound, Vincoff focused on Ob-Gyn ultrasound and high-risk obstetrics.

For the first 15 years of her career, she concentrated on breast imaging and Ob-Gyn ultrasound. While she was fulfilled by that work, Vincoff noticed that breast imaging was really holding her interest. Technology was part of what caused that change in focus.

“Over the time that I’ve been a radiologist, we’ve switched from film to digital and then from 2D digital mammography to 3D digital mammography. Ultrasound of the breast got better and better. There were more kinds of new technology around how to do biopsies using imaging guidance, whether that was using mammography for guidance or ultrasound for guidance or breast ultrasound for guidance,” says Vincoff, who adds that MRI is another area of growth in breast imaging.

Transforming the Patient Experience

“Breast imaging is the best place to be if you’re a radiologist. Because we read films, but we’re also in the room with people,” says Vincoff. “We’re scanning them. We’re doing procedures. We’re the people who are given the honor and the privilege of giving people results at a very [difficult] time.”

Getting a breast cancer diagnosis is a “really stressful” experience for a patient, she acknowledges. “It really is an honor and a privilege, I think, to be a part of people’s lives in that moment,” says Vincoff, who also serves as radiology vice chair for patient experience at Northwell Health. While breast imagers can’t change the patient’s diagnosis, they can make the patient’s journey through it a little easier, she adds. 

It starts with creating the right team, Vincoff says. The patient wants to feel that everyone on their team is aligned and committed to making them feel safe, which means creating the right culture, she says.

Here’s one piece of advice from Vincoff on transforming the patient experience: Don’t give the patient “homework.” Instead, let the scheduling team take care of prescriptions, pre-authorizations, scheduling, and getting previous exams for the patient so that the patient can arrive and have the procedure done and then prepare for the rest of their care journey.

Aine Cryts is a contributing writer for AXIS Imaging News.