Welcome to the first post in our series of Foundation #FY1 experiences in interventional radiology #IRad. IR is a fast growing specialty, and some junior doctors are lucky enough to have a Foundation job in this amazing specialty! Today we hear from Dr Linda Watkins, an interventional radiology fellow in Scotland who completed a Foundation Job in IR a few years ago.
Would you be able to introduce yourself and how you came across IR?
My name is Linda Watkins and I am currently a ST4 Interventional Radiology (IR) subspeciality trainee in the West of Scotland training programme. I discovered IR completely by accident as a third year medical student when I did a student selected module in radiology. It wasn’t even my first choice and was on my list purely because chest radiographs scared me and I wanted to overcome that. I turned up on my first day and my supervisor was an IR. I managed not to say “what’s that!?” and left after five weeks knowing that this was what I wanted to do and have worked towards that ever since.
What and where was your foundation radiology job?
I was in the fortunate position that location wasn’t a large deciding factor at the time of foundation training. When I found out that some foundation programmes offered radiology rotations, I looked into where this was offered and used that to help decide where to rank. I ended up taking an academic foundation track in the North West Deanery and was based in Pennine Acute NHS Trust. Everyone there did an unbanded rotation (old contract!) in F1 that was usually a bit more specialised and mine was radiology.
What were your expectations before starting the job?
I’m not sure that I had expectations particularly. I hoped to get a radiology project from it to help with applications to radiology training and I was looking forward to the Monday-Friday 9am-5pm life for four months but I think I was pretty open minded. Or as open minded as you can be when you’ve basically already decided what you want to do and are unlikely to be put off! I also went in from the start making it clear I was interested in IR and was proactive in asking for IR sessions.
What was your job plan (DR vs IR) and schedule like?
In real life the job was really half time radiology but I’ll explain why I think that’s a good thing. The five non-radiology sessions were made up of three sessions on the acute receiving medical ward, one session for foundation teaching and one session for my academic work. I then spent a day a week (two sessions) in IR, one session with the reporting radiographers, one doing ultrasound with one of the Consultants and the last session was flexible, usually CT or MRI. I think having that time on acute medicine every week was important in F1 to maintain and further develop basic clinical skills going into F2. I also wasn’t able to actively report and for me, four months of watching other people work would have got tiresome pretty quickly. Overall, I enjoyed the balance of this particular rotation.
What were the main learning points from the experience that you didn't get from the other jobs? What transferable skills did you gain?
The main things I got from this job were time and support. Having a proper 40 hour week with no oncalls and in the department I was interested in meant I could really get stuck into some projects. While there I wrote a patient information leaflet and standard operating procedure for CT colonography, submitted my essays for the first module of my PGCert and completed two relatively large radiology quality improvement projects. I managed to go to both Vienna, Austria and Ohrid, Macedonia during my F2 to present them at international conferences. I don’t think I could have achieved this and kept my sanity in any other rotation. The insights I gained into the working of the radiology department were also invaluable and very useful in F2 when requesting radiological investigations and procedures.
What were the highs and lows of the job?
Honestly, watching other people report plain films, CT and MRI is not the most exciting thing. I was glad that wasn’t my whole week and, because I only had a few sessions that were like that, I was able to make the most of them and make sure I took something away from each one. I know I would’ve really struggled if that had made up a larger component of the job. Looking back, I really loved the ultrasound list. The Consultant did a wide range of ultrasound and also did paediatric ultrasound so there was never the same thing twice. I would get the patient into the room, explain who I was and get their consent to scan them and then he would come and do the scan and while he was reporting it, I would get the next patient... It was amazing to get that early exposure to performing ultrasound scans and I loved both the variety and getting to talk about dinosaurs, Disney and Paw Patrol with the paediatric patients. Peppa pig would have to be another low though.
Would you recommend people do a radiology job and why/why not? How important was it in your decision to pursue IR?
As a little disclaimer, this is all entirely based on my personal experience. Just as all medical jobs are not created equal, nor are all radiology rotations and I imagine there have been a lot of changes to this job since I was there too. I also really loved those four months. However, I don’t think this job influenced my decision to pursue IR. Probably because I’d already essentially made that decision. It gave me a clearer perspective of the diagnostic side and getting to see and participate in some IR procedures was a great way to spend four months but it is absolutely not essential and I would not panic at all if you don’t get the foundation track you want or can’t move to an area that offers radiology rotations. I was able to build a stronger application to radiology training as a result however that had more to do with the time the rotation gave me and my other foundation jobs have arguably been more helpful once in radiology training. Having well rounded clinical experience will set you in good stead for all aspects of radiology, including IR.
Any other tips for aspiring IRs?
Get stuck in! If you’re a medical student, arrange an elective, it’s never too early to look into it. If you’re a foundation doctor or speciality trainee, go visit the department, do a taster week. There’s always something going on and projects to be done if you’re interested. Plus we’re generally friendly and super keen to talk to people about IR because it is genuinely awesome and I love my job!