My life as a ST2 in Radiology
In this instalment of ‘My life as a doctor’, we find out what radiology is like from an insider!
What stage of training are you currently at? Can you outline how the training structure for Radiology works?
I am currently an ST2. Radiology is a run through training specialty from ST1-ST5 (or ST6 if you are pursuing Interventional Radiology) and applicants can come straight from Foundation Training without MRCP/MRCS.
What region are you working in?
I am at a teaching hospital in London.
At what stage did you decide on Radiology?
I thought Radiology may be a good career option towards the end of medical school as I had some research in the field and enjoyed it. However, my decision was solidified during my Foundation Training. I didn’t have any alternatives as I knew it was what I wanted to do!
What brought you to your decision?
The main reason was that I enjoyed the variety that Radiology provides. The common misconception is that Radiologists only sit in a dark room looking at scans all day, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. We have ultrasound lists, drains lists, fluoroscopy, interventional radiology, MDTs – so the life of a Radiologist is more varied than you might think!
I also enjoyed all the variety medicine has to offer, and did not want to be forced to sub-specialise in a certain area. Radiologists have a surprisingly wide knowledge base, as they deal with clinicians from all specialties on a regular basis.
How did you prepare for applications to Radiology training?
As with most specialties, the Radiology application process is very competitive. There is an online application process followed by a mandatory Specialty Recruitment Assessment (SRA). This is a computer based exam which has both a knowledge component and an SJT component.
The same SRA is also undertaken in many other specialties. If your SRA score is above the threshold, you are invited to interview. At interview, along with the typical interview questions, various aspects are assessed including your portfolio, commitment to Radiology, and general understanding of Radiology.
What exams have you done so far? How have you found them, and how did you revise for them?
I have done the FRCR Part 1 which ST1s typically take in March of their first year. It incorporates one paper on Anatomy and one paper on Physics. For these exams there are standard textbooks we would use along with “in-house” and deanery physics/anatomy teaching. Both are also learnt on the job.
What would a typical day at work look like for you?
A typical day would be around 8.30-5.30. We usually have consultant-led teaching from 8.30-9 where we would go through interesting cases, and the working day begins at 9. We typically have a morning and an afternoon session – these could be CT, on-call, ultrasound, fluoroscopy, plain films, drains, MDM. Some sessions would also be with a consultant learning about a radiology subspecialty.
Do you think Radiology trainees are well-supported?
I have not worked anywhere else yet, but I would say we are very well-supported where I work. We are gradually introduced to more and more (appropriate) responsibility as time progresses; for example, we don’t do solo night shifts until our third year. Until this time, we are always supervised by a senior registrar and there is always someone around to ask for help if you are stuck.
What aspects of your role have you enjoyed the most? What have you found hard?
I enjoy the variety the most. The most difficult aspect when starting is that there is an extremely steep learning curve. Having come from medical school we are used to adapting quickly to new jobs and new environments. However, with radiology, you feel like you are back in medical school, because everything seems so new and unfamiliar. It can feel quite daunting initially and progress feels slow.
What do you think are the major downsides to your job and radiology training in general?
One major downside is the steep learning curve, which takes several months to get over, however everyone seems to manage in the end. Secondly, and I think this is probably similar to all specialities, the exams can be challenging with a great deal of material to learn and relatively low pass rates.
The working environment is different in Radiology compared to what you may be used to on the wards. Whilst there is a degree of teamwork and great camaraderie within the department, you have get used to the infrequent (but inevitable) time periods where you may be working on your own, and getting used to this takes some time. It is different to a ward based environment where the whole team is intrinsically working together all of the time.
What do you think are the most critical personality traits that a doctor should possess for a career in Radiology?
A difficult one – I would say that radiologists have to be good at working individually but also in a team. We are in constant dialogue with other clinicians and patients so good communication skills are essential. Often our day is immensely busy with various demands on our time – therefore good organisation and time management as well as self-motivation are important.
How is the work-life balance like in Radiology?
Good – although the on call burden can be busy we usually start and finish on time on normal days and don’t carry our work home with us.
Do you know which area you will aim to work in as a consultant and how do you plan to get there?
Not sure yet – there are so many subspecialty options to choose from! As you rotate around you get more exposure to different things and I’m hoping one of them will click for me.
What is your number one piece of advice to junior doctors who are considering applying for Radiology training?
My one piece of advice would be to experience the job during a taster week (or longer, if possible) because it is very different to what most people think it is. If you still enjoy it after that, I strongly recommend it to everyone, as I am having a fantastic time.