My life has been amazingly enriched
This year, the German Röntgen Society (DRG) awards the honorary membership to Richard L. Baron, professor of radiology at the University of Chicago Medical Center and former president of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). In this interview he explains what radiology means to him and how the way into this field feels to him.
Dr. Baron, why radiology? When did you decide to go into this field?
I always enjoyed solving puzzles as a child and adult. During medical school the two specialties that most engaged my interest due to their similarities to puzzle solving was radiology and nephrology. I enjoyed both of these specialties during my medical school training, but after completing a medical internship I decided at that time to focus my career in radiology.
Have you always wanted to become a radiologist? Which profession did you dream of when you were a child?
Radiology was a career choice I made only after completing medical school and seeing the various opportunities throughout the fields in medicine and surgery. As a child I don’t recall thinking about a career in medicine -- I probably dreamed about being a basketball star, or perhaps a lawyer like my father. My decision to become a physician really came into focus after I worked as a volunteer at a remote rural hospital in Ghana when I was 21 years old.
Was there an incident in Ghana which influenced you a lot and encouraged your decision to become a physician?
Seeing the dramatic impact one or two medical providers could have at such a basic level was truly inspiring to a young person. The local needs were so immense and basic that even a young, untrained volunteer such as myself could contribute and immediately see the rewards and feel the gratitude. It was clear to me then that if I got advanced training how much more I could contribute.
What do you like most about your profession, what do you like least?
My career and my personal life have been amazingly enriched by all the talented and creative individuals around the world that I have encountered through academic radiology. I can’t imagine how limited my experiences and visions of the world would have been had I not been so fortunate. This is certainly what I have enjoyed most about my professional career. Early in my career I couldn’t think of any aspect of my radiology practice that I thought was less attractive than others. Over the past decade I have to admit that in the USA the pressures to be more economically productive and with increased cost constraints I am finding it more difficult to train and mentor young radiologists and to attract them for academic careers.
If you were able to go back in time, would you change anything?
Probably like many individuals before me, over the years I have learned the value of patience and to be more accepting of different ways to reach needed goals. If I went back in time I would probably advise myself at various junctures in time to go more slowly, and take time to see my career and life as a journey and not a race.
Who influenced you most during your career and why?
There really is one individual during my residency who taught me far more than the facts of radiology, but was a visible role model not just on facts in radiology, but how to be a radiologist. Dr. Robert Stanley who in the 1970s was the chief of abdominal imaging at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology was one of the leading radiologists in developing body CT applications, and subsequently became the editor of the American Journal of Roentgenology and Chair of Radiology at the University of Alabama. Despite his incredible academic achievement, he at all times put patient care first and saw each patient examination as a critical question to be answered with the highest quality effort. And he always visibly demonstrated respect and compassion for patients, and for referring physicians in all his interactions. Ever since then I try at all times to model my practice and interactions by asking myself “What would Dr. Stanley do in this situation?” I can only wish every young radiologist would have such a wonderful role model.
How does it feel to be an honorary member of the DRG?
My best reflections on my career are the talented and wonderful individuals I have gotten to know and work with worldwide who have taught me so much not just about radiology but about different ways to tackle life’s issues. To be so honored by these individuals in Germany to suggest I have somehow given back to them as well is one of the highlights of my career.
What’s the magic formula for success?
I guess the magic formula is to realize there is no magic formula, nor any one definition of success. Everybody realizes that hard work and constant attention to always providing the highest quality outputs is important -- I would add that those individuals who always demonstrate respect for all individuals in their interactions always seem to be more successful in the long run.
What song best describes your work ethic?
I always enjoyed The Beach Boys as an adolescent, and the title of their song “Fun, Fun, Fun” frequently rings in my head. I look at my work as fun all day long, and some days tell the residents “I can’t believe they pay me to do this.”
When are you completely satisfied with your work?
I don’t think I’m ever completely satisfied, and mostly stop on a project or case only because of time constraints. My favorite book author, John Irving, in his autobiography stated that he doesn’t see himself as a particularly good rewriter but more that he’s very good at rewriting. I approach my work the same way!