Med School Reboot
By Jenny Jones
Some things are meant to go together: peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots, milk and cookies, and radiology and the continuum of patient care. While that last couplet may not be a household phrase, radiology is undoubtedly an integral part of medicine. Whether a patient needs an X-ray of a simple bone fracture, a mammogram to screen for breast cancer, or an MRI to investigate a life-threatening brain tumor, imaging is intertwined with nearly all aspects of health care.
As medical students learn to care for their patients, appropriate use of imaging is key. For the more than 90 percent of medical students who are not planning on a career in radiology specialties, it is vital to understand imaging’s impact on patients, says David M. Naeger, MD, assistant professor of clinical radiology and co-director of the Henry L. Goldberg Center for Advanced Imaging Education at the University of California, San Francisco. “Radiology is such a massive part of health care that if providers do not understand imaging, they cannot be good doctors.”
Yet most medical schools do not emphasize radiology education. A 2012 study of U.S. medical schools reveals that just 25 percent require radiology as a clinical rotation. Instead, most medical students receive dedicated imaging training only as elective clinical rotations, according to another 2012 survey of medical school deans and radiology department chairs. Otherwise, the survey shows, imaging is integrated into preclinical courses, most notably anatomy, and later into core clinical rotations such as internal medicine, surgery, and obstetrics and gynecology.
The use of diagnostic imaging has increased rapidly in recent years. Between 1996 and 2010, the number of CTs performed tripled and MRI’s quadrupled among six large integrated health systems alone. Naeger says radiology has become increasingly important in health care. But as imaging has advanced, he says, medical school “curricula have changed at a much more deliberate pace, so it’s a lot easier for old habits in medical schools’ approach to radiology education to persist.”