December 20, 2021

Transitioning Into Practice as an Air Force Radiologist

J. Alex McFarland, MD

J. Alex McFarland, MDChange can be hard. At least, it has been for me recently. Moving my family of four away from our social circle and support system to a new city where we didn’t know a soul; starting work at a new hospital with new people, systems and processes; being re-indoctrinated into the Air Force as an active duty officer and learning how to fulfill the part I play in the greater mission of our military; remembering how to wear the uniform and how to abide by the military customs and courtesies; passing physical fitness tests and training for potential overseas deployment — all of these changes I’ve experienced in the past six months. And on top of all that, I’ve had to weather the transition from radiology resident to attending radiologist.

As time passed, unfamiliar places became familiar. New friendships were forged. Old ways were relearned. New roles and responsibilities were lived into. The real possibility of overseas deployment was reconciled with. But the anticipated comfort and ease of functioning as an independent radiologist has been slower to develop. It’s difficult to shake the weight of the responsibility that now rests entirely upon my shoulders, one that I previously shared with attending radiologists much more intelligent and tenured than myself.

I’ve been waiting for the day when it would all click, and I would no longer feel a twinge of anxiety each time I signed off on a report — but that day hasn’t yet come. I’ve started to think that maybe it never will, and perhaps that’s a good thing. Maybe ridding myself of that feeling isn’t something I should pursue. What if it’s that gut-wrenching conviction that empowers me to offer patients my best, day in and day out? To lose that visceral experience could lead to being too comfortable, too confident or too motivated by the RVU.

Les Stroud, the Survivorman, says that courage is facing a challenge with a healthy fear, not being fearless. Maybe it’s an equilibrium of healthy fear and confidence that I need to pursue — fear of what a momentary lapse in concentration could result in for a patient, and confidence in the knowledge and experience instilled in me by my residency program and mentors.

But is it really okay to live with fear each day? Call it fear, call it conviction, call it drive to remember that the images you’re looking at are of real people with real loved ones — call it whatever you want. Just know that, once you’re out on your own, you’re going to experience that feeling, whatever name you give it. But instead of striving to someday rid yourself of it, perhaps you should embrace it. To lose it may mean to start dehumanizing your patients, putting your interests above theirs. But to accept it and live into it could translate into quality, compassionate care for your patients and being the best radiologist you can be.