As we usher in a New Year, the mantra is ?out with the angst and in with adaptability.?

My dad was ahead of his time. When I was a kid, he was a New York City police officer who worked his way up to the rank of lieutenant. He could have rested on his laurels and retired after 30 years with a big pension. But he opted instead, at around the age of 50, to pursue an advanced degree in labor relations. Ultimately, he decided it was time for “a second act,” trading in his badge and blue uniform for a white-collar position at a major organization. Even back then, his move made an impression on me: He’s reinvented himself, I thought. I admired his flexibility and fearlessness.

A New Year is a good time to think about fresh starts. It’s a good time to think about re-inventing oneself, even in the context of a given role. Adaptability is the name of the game and that could not be truer than for radiologists.

Now, more than ever, radiologists need to be flexible, open-minded, and responsive to today’s health care climate. Faced with lower reimbursements, increased competition, and ever-evolving new technologies, staying ahead of the curve—and keeping a practice profitable—is no small feat. The best-equipped radiologists are hardly the recluses in the reading room. Business savvy and people skills are as valuable as subspecialty expertise. The ability to build business and to develop relationships with patients are top priorities.

So as much as we talk about the external changes—the outside forces—that impact on today’s radiologists, it seems that what the profession really needs is internal change. I’m referring to a shift in mindset; something I certainly sense in many radiologists, but especially in the new generation. A positive attitude that brings with it less angst about the future and more creative thinking.

Samir S. Shah, MD, recently joined our Editorial Advisory Board. Asked about his impressions of this past RSNA, he summed it up in a nutshell: “economically induced depressing anxiety.” “A lot of radiologists are fearful of corporate entities. They’re afraid the practice they’ve always known is going to be controlled,” said Shah. “I think most radiologists want to see more radiologist-owned practices—yet no one wants to take the risk! So, it’s sort of a catch-22.”

Despite tough economic times and the changing landscape of health care, Shah (who is 37-years-old and has been practicing for 7 years) sees an upside for radiologists in his demographic. He says that while he has some envy for the safer situation enjoyed by previous generations, it is not a longing for the past because that perspective is almost foreign to him and his peers. “In the old days, you joined a practice and you stayed there for 30 years,” said Shah. “But even 10 years ago, radiologists stopped thinking about 3-year plans.” In other words, nothing is forever and adapting to change is critical.

Perhaps, for Shah’s generation, there is less of a fear of change, but more a fear of the unknown. At the same time, “not knowing” what is in store can be inspiring. “It forces you to think out-of-the-box,” said Shah.

It’s interesting to see that so many of radiology’s new generation are thinking out-of-the-box. For example, they’re pursuing advanced degrees to enhance their business skills. Many radiologists I’ve met either have earned, or are working toward, a Masters of Business Administration degree. And Shah is presently a candidate for a Masters in Medical Management. Expanding their knowledge and skills is a way of re-inventing themselves to meet the demands of the future in the changing field of radiology.

Entrepreneurial ventures among radiologists are more common now, too. Barry Katz, MD, MBA, works in a group practice in Central New Jersey. We spoke about the need for radiologists to learn how to properly assess costs, otherwise practices will continue to flounder. As he put it, “I want to see radiology practices survive.” His own plan is to continue in radiology, but he has launched an entrepreneurial venture as well. His company, Ektio Inc, makes an athletic shoe based on a patented technology designed to prevent ankle sprains.

Perhaps radiologists like Shah and Katz have the right idea. The more well rounded and multi-dimensional you are today, the more equipped you are for tomorrow.

Marianne Matthews

Marianne Matthews