How I became a breast radiologist

In high school, I remember filling out a questionnaire that was supposed to help you decide what kind of job would best suit you and your interests.  My answers pointed in me in the direction of a flight attendant or something else in the service industry.  So, I figured that if I combined flight attendant with the love of math and science, medicine was the right place for me.  But I didn’t want to spend eight years in school and then more years in training before I could actually go out and do what I wanted to do.  So, my senior year I made the decision to become a doctor and was accepted into medical school through the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute/Albany Medical College 6 year accelerated medical program.

The next major decision for me came in my 3rd year of medicine, where I had to decide what kind of doctor to become.  I had always loved children and wanted to become a pediatrician but found it too depressing and, at times, kind of boring.  One day, I sat down with a radiologist and he explained how the physics behind the images and the physiology of the disease processes came together and produced what I was looking at.  That was the moment I knew I was going to be a radiologist.

Now there were times I wondered how the flight attendant in me was going to help people by sitting in a dark room all day.  At the end of my intern year, I had thought about being a plastic surgeon or a hospitalist where you could see, touch and talk to patients and feel rewarded when you were able to help them.  But I figured I would give radiology a try since I already had a residency position.

By the end third year of residency training, I once again had to make a major decision, deciding what area of radiology I wanted to specialize in.  The geek inside me loved MRI because of the physics, but the flight attendant in me wanted to see patients.  I was told that by doing mammography, I would be pigeon holed into that specialty, that I would have a higher chance of getting sued, etc.  I was scared.  I hadn’t really seen or evaluated a patient in years.  I chose to do a MRI fellowship.

Then I got pregnant and my husband and I decided to move close to family.  I had to change fellowships and found a MRI fellowship at Columbia in New York City.  Though I loved what I was learning, the hour and a half to two hour commute was killing me.  I only got to see my 6 month old daughter 1 hour a day.  And to add to that, I couldn’t find a job with my kind of specialty training!  After a few months of commuting back and forth, I decided to jump ship and enter a breast imaging fellowship.

Things came full circle for me.  Even though I chose a specialty that primarily has little patient contact, I was able to find the part of it that satisfied the flight attendant in me.  Even though the physics of mammography and ultrasound aren’t particularly complex, breast cancer is.  Diagnosing breast cancer has made me cry when I have had to tell patients their diagnosis, made me happy when I have been able to give patients hope, and made me appreciate every minute of life I have no matter how bad I have thought things have been.  Breast cancer has humbled me and that is where I am today.


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