Interventional radiology is changing the landscape of health care, but the field needs to continue to attract top talent.

I often wonder what prompts a physician to choose a specialty. I?m curious as to what factors come into play. ? Is it genuine passion for a given area? Is it intellectual leaning? Or is it an emotional calling? For example, choosing cardiology because one lost one?s dad to heart disease. Or does it simply come down to quality of life reasons such as predictable hours and a good salary?

Then, of course, there are always those who will be drawn to the exciting. It seems to me that many a young doctor would be attracted to an area of medicine that is state-of-the-art; where new discoveries are being made every day; where creativity is as critical as science.

Interventional radiology is precisely one of those disciplines. Yet we hear time and again that there is a shortage of interventional radiologists. Like breast imagers, today?s practices and hospitals report that interventional radiologists are among the most difficult subspecialists to attract.

Perhaps part of the reason is that medical students are unaware of just what interventional radiology is all about. A recent study in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology spelled out some surprising findings. Researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Stanford University Medical Center examined the perceptions of a group of second-year medical students regarding interventional radiology. The sampling was small?just 65 students from a single US institution?but still, revealing.

The medical students were anonymously surveyed about their opinions of IR before and after a 1-hour case-based introductory lecture. Prior to the lecture, 52% said they were aware of IR involvement in major and potentially life-saving procedures, but 34% believed that interventional radiologists primarily performed ?minor? procedures or ?read films.? Moreover, the authors note that survey respondents indicated that previous interaction with interventional radiologists was rare.

But the single, case-based introductory IR lecture appeared to work wonders. After the lecture, 74% of the class was eager to learn more about the specialty, with 22% interested in enrolling in a dedicated hands-on elective in IR. According to the researchers? abstract, ?The perception and impression of what IR entails changed significantly for the better for 75% of the students. Before the lecture, 19% were considering IR as a career (first or second choice); this increased to 33% after the introductory lecture.?

The authors of the study conclude that while medical students are aware of IR, their understanding of the discipline is vague. ?Reaching out to medical students early in their career may help in recruiting talent and securing the specialty?s growth,? write the researchers.

Since its beginnings, interventional radiology has been a progressive field attracting pioneering minds. Over the past 40 years, more than 2,400 patents and patent applications for devices and procedures that advance minimally invasive treatments have been filed by members of the Society of Interventional Radiology. Today, the fastest growing area of interventional radiology is interventional oncology. (See our story in this issue, ?Building the Practice.?) Just as the invention of angioplasty and the catheter-delivered stent changed the medical landscape, now techniques like cryoablation and chemoembolization are revolutionizing cancer care.

Interventional radiology seems to me to be a career for those who want to explore new frontiers in medicine. It?s for physicians who aim to push the envelope with less invasive?and with shorter hospital stays, more cost-effective?alternatives to surgery. So what is the medical imaging community doing to attract new talent to this important specialty? To me, IR stands for ?innovative revolutionaries.? Now that?s the kind of group many a young medical student would like to join.

Marianne Matthews

Marianne Matthews