The future hangs in the balance for a small group of radiology residents.

By Marianne Matthews

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In mid-February, St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, NY, announced that it was terminating its osteopathic radiology residency program, leaving 11 residents without a program or funding beyond June 30, 2013. This was unfortunate news for the aspiring radiologists, to say the least. In a recent phone interview, Steven Clark, a spokesperson for St. Barnabas, said the hospital has now decided to extend the date to June 30, 2014. When pressed about whether the radiology residency program would indeed terminate at that point—or might it have a chance of surviving, after all—Clark said, “No long-term decision has been made.”

Why the extension? Referring to the 11 residents who would have been left this summer without any funds to transfer to another program that might pick them up, Clark said St. Barnabas’ leaders “felt their pain.”  By extending the program one more year, the residents have more time to decide on their next move. “It’s fairer for the residents; it buys them time,” said Clark. Even so, the residents are left in limbo, undoubtedly wondering about their long-term training and careers.

St. Barnabas originally decided to dissolve the program for two reasons. Early news reports said the rationale was that hospital leaders   felt funding for the program should be reallocated to pay for more spots for primary care residents. While Clark confirmed this, he said there was an additional factor. The contract with St. Barnabas’ incumbent radiology practice was expiring, and for financial reasons, the hospital was seriously considering switching to a teleradiology group. However, the teleradiology group did not want to participate in a residency program. If the hospital opted for the teleradiology group, they would have been left with no choice than to shut down the residency program. (For now, St. Barnabas has renewed its contract with the incumbent radiology practice.)

All of this begs the question: With more hospitals relying on teleradiology providers, is it going to get tougher to sustain radiology residency programs? The training of residents doesn’t fit in with the teleradiology model. Yet, many financially strapped hospitals across the country are contracting directly with teleradiology providers, displacing radiology groups and offering only a skeleton crew of live radiologists at the facility. If this trend continues, will it ultimately have an impact on the options available to the next generation? Will there be fewer radiology residency programs to choose from?

The St. Barnabas debacle has prompted one group to try to make just the opposite happen. The New York College of Osteopathic Medicine Educational Consortium (NYCOMEC) is presently working on developing a new osteopathic radiology residency program at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, according to president and CEO David Broder, DO, FACP, FACOI. “It all began because of the St. Barnabas Hospital situation,” said Broder. “We’re hoping to have a program approved by July 1 of this year.”

Maybe St. Barnabas will reinstate its program long-term, but maybe not. Establishing a new program where the St. Barnabas residents could relocate if they so choose, sounds like a smart plan. Broder acknowledged that the process takes time—typically between 6 and 18 months—and that the Wyckoff program would have to meet the standards of and be accredited by the American Osteopathic Association.

According to Broder, NYCOMEC has a moral commitment to helping its trainees and a proven track record of success. “We’ve had five hospitals close that had residency programs, and we’ve been able to offer opportunities to all the residents either through existing programs or by creating new ones,” said Broder. If the group’s history is any indicator, Wyckoff could wind up being the long-term answer for the residents in waiting.