April 29, 2020

Dr. Oxner's Career Down the Road Less Traveled

by Catherine J. Everett, MD, MBA, FACR

Kathleen Oxner Gallagher, MD, MSIn 1976, Kathleen Oxner Gallagher, MD, MS, and I started our residencies in radiology at the University of North Carolina under the visionary leadership of chairman, James Scatliff, MD, FACR. It was just one year after the first female radiology resident, Valerie Mandell, MD, had entered the program. Kathleen and I represented 50 percent of the residency class — yep … a total of four residents.

Kathleen and I were medical school classmates, two of the 13 women in our class of 125. I admired her tremendously. She had two small children, a professional spouse who traveled extensively, and yet she excelled in the classroom and on the wards. Kathleen’s children were also pretty exceptional. They knew how to take taxi cabs where they needed to go when Kathleen couldn’t take them, and Kathleen had a pool of drivers available for them to call (mind you ... no smartphones or Uber back then).

How did she achieve success? In her own words:

Although I very much wanted children, it appeared extremely difficult to have a full-time medical career and effectively raise children. Consequently, I chose a college major of International Affairs at the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, to broaden my interests.

My first job was secretary to a pharmacologist at Georgetown Medical School with somewhat flexible daily hours, which allowed me to attend a medical school class in biochemistry (Georgetown) and achieve a very high score on the exam. Realizing that perhaps medical school wasn’t as tough as I had originally thought, I seized all opportunities to observe at close range the life of a medical student/resident, meanwhile obtaining an MS in physiology at Duke.

When my two children were starting kindergarten and second grade, the time was right to pursue my long-term goal. The greatest difficulty during medical school became the prioritization of family and medicine with limited hours in the day. But eight years out of college, I felt extremely fortunate for the opportunity to attend medical school and loved the training at Chapel Hill, surrounded by wonderful people. And the children were great!


After fellowship, Kathleen joined a “delightful” private practice of seven people in North Carolina. She enjoyed the practice, but now she had a new yearning. MRI was a brand new modality, and Kathleen was hooked. She spent her vacation time as a mini fellow at institutions with the most MRI magnets as a way to see the most cases (new goal — MSK fellowship).

Although she loved her practice of 12 years, it was too small to accommodate her year off to attend fellowship. So she pursued a job with a larger practice that would allow her to primarily do her subspecialty. With a job commitment and a firm start date, she needed to find and finish her fellowship quickly. Ever resourceful, Kathleen consulted her three mentors who strongly supported her move and gave her advice on the best program fits for her.

Problem was, Kathleen explained, the established outstanding teaching programs required application one to two years in advance. So I contacted the chairman of the excellent MSK program at the University of Pennsylvania, demonstrated my enthusiasm and determination, and asked to join the fellowship program unofficially without pay. He readily agreed, I think sensing my enthusiasm. This was perfect, and when I arrived, it was even better. Working very closely with the chairman of MSK, the attendings and the official fellow — each of whom were marvelously interactive, superb teachers — was an incredible experience.

Kathleen then joined the large private practice of her dreams, performing almost exclusively her beloved MSK exams and procedures. From the words of a radiologist at a competitive private practice group, she was a “superstar.”

But by now you know Kathleen, and she was not finished with her career.

For a very complicated surgical procedure, I went to the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, first for surgery, then for regular follow-up visits. During intervals between appointments, I attended available MSK conferences and shared conversations with radiologists who invited me to spend an afternoon in the MSK reading room. I ended up reviewing some of the cases with the residents and, apparently, this was well received. This evolved into a position as an adjunct faculty member 3 1/2 years ago. It has been wonderful!

Once again, genuine enthusiasm and the opportunity to share that enthusiasm with like-minded people resulted in a relationship (this time totally unexpected) beneficial to all involved.

Kathleen did once cause some consternation for the ACR. She was president-elect of the North Carolina Radiological Society when she moved to her new practice in South Carolina. However, no bylaws existed to determine the course of action for chapter leaders moving to a different chapter while in office. But Kathleen graciously resigned. She is still fondly remembered by the old guard in the NC Chapter.

Everyone has different goals and paths to achieve them. Radiology offers unique opportunities for growth and change, available in very few professions. I salute Kathleen Gallagher Oxner, MD, MS, pursuing her goals down paths seldom taken.