In April 2020, Gadson J. (Jack) Tarleton Jr., MD, FACR, became a centenarian. The COVID-19 birthday drive-by celebration that was featured on the local news was a tribute to a consummate teacher, family man, bridge player, and humanitarian. His contributions to the education and mentorship of thousands of medical students, trainees, medical colleagues, and the radiology profession are legendary — his career spanning generations. He served as chair of the department of radiology at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., from 1949–1977, where he initiated a radiology residency program, and he later served at Alvin C. York Veteran’s Administration Medical Center. He was actively involved in many professional organizations and societies, including the National Medical Association and the ACR, becoming a fellow of the ACR in 1974. Tarleton also served as an examiner for the ABR. In addition to his many volunteer roles with professional societies, Tarleton was highly engaged in several civic and religious organizations, including the Northwest YMCA of Nashville, the Nashville Christian Leadership Council, and the Catholic Bishops Lay Advisory Board. He was named a Knight of Saint Gregory by Pope Paul VI in March 1971.
According to Sandra A. Bates, MD, who was trained by Tarleton, he was often quoted as saying, “Radiology is a mountaintop experience, using cutting-edge technologies — an excellent way to practice medicine — where you can see anatomy without a scalpel.” Andrea A. Birch, MD, FACR, professor of clinical radiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a member of the ACR’s Commission for Women and Diversity, spoke with Tarleton about his philosophy on what it takes to be an excellent radiologist and educator.
On the Specialty
The one reason I went into radiology is because it keeps me cognizant of all the other specialties. Every specialty has a radiological component. Radiology gives you a good breadth and as much depth as you wish to carry out.
The time of stress is not the time to create a solution for the stress. You have to do that beforehand. Start by theorizing, What if? What principles can I apply to this idea? Run through as many possible responses as you can. Finally, when you run out, you stash the responses away in your psyche.
Radiology is not running through a list of questions and checking yes or no. When you’re reading a patient’s imaging, you might see something in the chest that makes you want to look at the hand. To seek the answers that impact our patients’ care — that’s the joy of life.
To seek the answers that impact our patients’ care — that’s the joy of life.
I had no trouble at any of the institutions I went to, which included Vanderbilt, Meharry, Bellevue Hospital, and New York University Hospital. There were no Black Americans at Vanderbilt at the time. I wanted to borrow a few teaching materials in nuclear medicine, so I got an appointment with the chair of radiology at Vanderbilt at that time, Eugene C. Klatte, MD, FACR, who recognized me and said, “You examined me in radiology.” We had a great time together. There was no friction.
On Being True
If there’s something on an image that could affect a patient’s health, I can’t just pass it by and say nobody will see it. The quality of the work you do matters. Even as a kid, you make up your bed and when you finish your parent comes and looks at it. Maybe the sheet is showing or the pillows are crooked. “But Mom, nobody sees that! That’s underneath.” You see it.
William Shakespeare once wrote, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” That’s the kind of education that every radiologist needs.
On Moral Character
I have been greatly influenced by lessons my mother gave me about fairness, about being thorough in my investigations, and about getting the answers to questions that arise in your mind. Throughout all of these is the development of good moral character.
It’s also about being generally prepared in such a way that you approach new situations with ease. I think that is the kind of preparation that every radiologist and every other specialist needs. That is what makes not just strong radiologists, but strong people.