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Frequently Asked Questions

What does a Diagnostic Radiologist do? What is a typical day like?
A radiologist is a physician who specializes in the interpretation of imaging studies. These include the modalities of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) , computed tomography (CT), ultrasound, angiography, fluoroscopy and general radiography. In addition, virtually every radiologist performs image-guided diagnostic and interventional procedures, ranging from routine percutaneous biopsies to cutting-edge therapeutic intervention (e.g. intra-arterial therapy for hepatocellular carcinoma, vertebroplasty, etc). Most radiologists have expertise in more than one modality. 

A typical day usually begins at 8:00 am in both the hospitals and clinics. In the hospital setting, where I work as a neuroradiologist, I usually read out all of the overnight/weekend emergency cases and the resident’s cases first thing in the morning. I then supervise and interpret inpatient and outpatient CT and MRI cases throughout the day or will be performing procedures and angiograms if scheduled in the angiography suite. This includes consultations with clinicians about their patient’s studies, either by phone or in person, and often times both.  My colleagues in other areas of radiology would follow a similar pattern of reporting both inpatient and outpatient imaging studies and performing procedures during the course of the day. In an academic center such as ours, we participate in teaching rounds at 7:30 am and both teaching rounds and multidisciplinary rounds with other specialties at noon. The day usually ends around 5 pm. 

What are the best and worst things about your specialty? 
Diagnostic Radiology is one of the most dynamic specialties in medicine. Few specialties offer the opportunity to interact with colleagues from almost every other specialty on a frequent basis. Gone are the days of reading radiographs in a dark room. Residents now obtain expertise in multiple modalities, listed above. They have a state-of-the-art PACS (Picture Archival and Communication System) and province-wide patient information system (NetCare) at their disposal. All imaging is read out electronically. Image-guided diagnostic and therapeutic interventions are performed daily in our department, offering tremendous opportunity for direct clinical involvement with patients. Those of you who have completed your ward and ER rotations already know how often patient management and triage hinges on imaging. From a technology standpoint, imaging techniques and equipment are constantly changing – equipment that was state-of the-art becomes archaic quickly. The ability to come up with a differential diagnosis based solely on imaging findings and then tailor it to the clinical situation is something that radiologists enjoy doing on a daily basis. You would be hard-pressed to find a radiologist who regretted choosing the specialty.

Lack of direct patient contact is always mentioned as a downside, but in reality many areas of radiology provide patient interaction, particularly in areas that have an emphasis on procedures, such as interventional radiology, breast imaging, ultrasound and fluoroscopy. Establishing rapport with patients is paramount especially when performing minimally invasive imaging guided procedures. One of the specialty’s disadvantages is the reliance on expensive technology. Otherwise, there is little to discourage someone from contemplating radiology as a career.

What distinguishes the U of A program from others? 
Our referral base (Northern Alberta and part of BC) guarantees exposure to a huge breadth of pathology that rivals any program. We are fortunate to have our residents rotate through quaternary and tertiary care centers (University of Alberta and Royal Alexandra Hospitals) and community hospitals (Sturgeon and Grey Nuns), the Cross Cancer Institute and the Stollery Children’s Hospital, gaining exposure to all facets of radiology. We have a very large teaching faculty, assuring our residents of daily one-on-one teaching and interaction throughout the residency.  Our department has state-of-the equipment including new angiographic suites at UAH, RAH and Grey Nuns, multiple MRI scanners and state-of-the art multi-slice CT scanners. All of our reporting areas have been renovated recently, and all imaging is now reported electronically, via a region wide PACS (picture archiving and communication system) which our residents utilize. A 2-year rotating comprehensive didactic program runs during the weekly academic half-day. We ensure all our residents participate in radiology research and quality assurance. Every resident is funded to attend a major radiology conference and the AIRP (American Institute of Radiologic Pathology – formerly AFIP) course.  We are extremely proud of our residents; they actively participate in developing and improving our program, which is why it is as successful as it is.

What are the varieties of lifestyles within your field?
The choice of practice will in some ways dictate some of the lifestyle issues commonly associated with medicine.  Obviously, the amount of after-hours call has a great impact on a physician’s (and his or her family’s) lifestyle.  Hospital practice is always associated with some on-call responsibilities.  The frequency of call depends on the number of radiologists in the group and the number of subspecialty areas within radiology that each radiologist can cover.  With more modern imaging techniques, imaging has now become a major element in emergency medicine, and given the 24-hour/7-day per week service rendered by emergency departments, it is clear that the radiologist’s services are more in demand than ever before.  Evening shifts and overnight shifts are starting to emerge in radiology practices all over North America. 

It is significant that radiologists in general have a high degree of work satisfaction.  This, in turn, means that “burn out” is an infrequent problem in the radiology community.  The reasons for this are not entirely clear, but likely relate in some way to the fact that radiologists frequently work in groups which allow individuals to continually learn from and stimulate each other.  This, coupled with the diversity of clinical cases and the satisfaction of knowing that acquiring and interpreting images in medicine is a crucial element of providing high quality patient care, makes for a satisfying and fulfilling career.

How is your residency program organized?
The Diagnostic Radiology residency is fully accredited by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.  It is a five year program which encompasses all of the major areas in Diagnostic Radiology.  The first year is a clinical year, with rotations in Internal Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, Obstetrics/Gynaecology, Orthopedic Surgery, CCU, Emergency and Pathology.  The final four years are dedicated to Diagnostic Imaging, with rotations through the various core and subspecialty areas.  The residents have one academic half-day per week.  This includes a structured didactic curriculum, as well as physics instruction, anatomy teaching, CanMEDS sessions and study/review sessions.

What are you looking for specifically in a candidate?  
This is a difficult question to answer, as many of our strongest residents come from very different backgrounds. A strong academic background is key, and a candidate must have good communication skills and work ethic. One myth is that you need a physics or engineering background to succeed in radiology – only a small percentage of our residents have such a background.  You have to be disciplined with regards to studying and employing a robust personal learning strategy, because there is a tremendous amount of knowledge you have to acquire over the course of the five-year program. 

What is the typical day in the life of a resident?
Residents are expected to arrive at 07:30 for teaching rounds every morning.  The clinical day starts at 08:30 and usually finishes around 17:00 hours.  The resident’s day consists of interpreting studies, performing procedures or a mix thereof, depending on the rotation.  Each case is supervised by a staff radiologist, which allows for immediate feedback to the resident.  Each case has potential to be a teaching case in a one-on-one format with the staff.  After the case(s) have been reviewed with the staff radiologist, the resident dictates a report on the imaging study, which is then reviewed by the staff before being sent to the referring clinician.  Residents are responsible for ensuring timely and accurate dictations.  A variety of noon hour teaching rounds, including radiology grand rounds, take place at the two main teaching hospitals (UAH and RAH).

Who can we contact for information or to set up electives?
Bobbie Kostuk (780-407-8528) is our elective coordinator.  Contact Janet Dawson​, program administrator in our program office (780-407-6810) about specific aspects of the program or if you have questions.  

Dr. Arlene Kanigan
Diagnostic Radiology Program Director