As radiologists, many of us have dedicated the majority of our lives to the pursuit of patient care and education through medical imaging. We have also had the privilege of doing so during one of the most prolific periods of technological innovation in any field of medicine. Long gone are the glory days of injecting a syringe of air into the central nervous system space or interpreting a collection of large dots created by a rectilinear scanner. During such an evolution, we have all been extremely involved in its development, whether in academic arenas or private practices. That being the case, it can be difficult adjusting to a new world after this intense and personally committed stage of our lives.
I have thought quite a bit about this next phase of “moving on” (I don’t care for the “R” word) and have come to realize that this period can provide a unique and rewarding opportunity to do the things that we have always thought about but never had the time to pursue. This does not mean completely eliminating involvement in radiology, as it is very rewarding to volunteer time to our healthcare organizations or pass our knowledge on to the next generation of radiologists — something I have been fortunate enough to do.
I, however, found I needed to explore other aspects of my persona which had been pushed to the back burners of my mind. I started to think less about my analytical side and more about the artistic one. I have always loved photography and playing the piano, both of which give me a great sense of satisfaction. Being in touch with both those passions takes me into another world and, incidentally, can occupy vast amounts of time — perfect for moving on.
I was introduced to photography when I was 10 years old. My father was an internist and hematologist in St. Louis. One day, a patient who had just visited Japan gave him a Nikon camera. Fortunately for me, Dad was too busy seeing patients and taking midnight house calls to get involved in photography. He gave me the camera and thus started my love affair with photography that has continued to this day.
I have always loved photography and playing the piano, both of which give me a great sense of satisfaction. Being in touch with both those passions takes me into another world and, incidentally, can occupy vast amounts of time — perfect for moving on.
Although I have been taking photos all my life, it wasn’t until I faced moving on that I was able to truly delve into it. I found I had over 20,000 scattered pictures and my first objective was to select and organize the best of them into something coherent. I attended lectures and workshops and spent endless hours watching YouTube videos on how to take and process photographs. Once I got my photo act together, I created a website (www.harryagressphotography.com) — which for me was a wonderful achievement and a great way to share my images with the world.
It seems logical that I’ve always enjoyed looking at images — I have always learned far better from visual cues than written ones. I believe that photography and radiology are all about curiosity. In radiology, we are deeply involved in solving medical problems, and we certainly observe very carefully all that encompasses the human body. With photography, I am constantly observing — trying to express the feeling of an exact moment, to understand a different culture, or simply to find beauty in details and patterns. I’m fortunate that I’ve found a way to make both passions a part of my life.
While I’ve been lucky enough to have my work shown in several exhibitions, I ultimately realized I derived the most satisfaction from donating my works to hospitals — mainly to create a more welcoming and caring environment for patients, their families, and the staff. Healthcare visits can frequently trigger feelings of anxiety and bewilderment. Art can have an extremely positive effect on patients, creating a soothing, uplifting, and restorative atmosphere of beauty, color, and often inspiration.
My hope for my fellow colleagues also entering this exciting new period of life, is that you spend time with your family and friends, but also reconnect with your passions. Try to bring them up to the front burners of your mind — and enjoy this wonderful journey.
Harry Agress Jr., MD, FACR, is a clinical professor in the department of radiology at Columbia University in New York City, and chair emeritus of the department of radiology and director emeritus of the PET/CT Center and Division of Nuclear Medicine at Hackensack Meridian Health/Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. He can be reached at email@example.com.