Leadership Essentials

My earliest recollection of a powerful, influential radiologist physician leader is from day one of my radiology rotation in medical school. Nervous and self-conscious, I was unsure which specialty would hold that forever-after professional appeal—and then the lightning bolt struck. Her name was Margaret LaManna, MD, and she was the most poised, articulate physician I’d ever seen.

At the surgery–radiology case conference, when she strode to the front of the room, a hush fell over the gathered medical students and residents. In her wake, trailing surgeons clutched the films to be discussed. I’d heard of LaManna, the brilliant, well-versed nuclear-medicine physician who was a stickler for punctuality, extreme thoroughness, and—above all—integrity. Always pleasant, she was nevertheless unflappable in defending her diagnoses.

Her role as trusted colleague and clinical consultant convinced me that a radiologist holds the power to make a real difference in the health of others. I would spend four weeks under LaManna’s spell, influenced by the attitudes I’ve come to appreciate (and strive to practice) as a physician leader: passion, mixed with natural inquisitiveness; patience, regardless of circumstances or outcomes; emotional intelligence; and an uncompromising work ethic.

My exposure to another great leader would come later, when a giant in the field changed my world and taught me life lessons that continue to provide inspiration and courage. During my residency at Memorial Hermann–Texas Medical Center, Houston, I met the father of trauma radiology, John H. Harris Jr, MD, DSc, FACR, professor and chair of the department and coauthor of the only book that I kept on my nightstand: The Radiology of Emergency Medicine (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins).

Always the first to arrive at the hospital and the last to leave, Harris demonstrated perpetual energy that would leave us breathless, yet excited to follow him and learn from him. As a consummate scientist and teacher, with an unquenchable thirst to know more, he imparted his wisdom with intense precision and deliberate exactness, transforming the tangled, complex musculoskeletal injury into a simple connect-the-dots exercise. He taught us to break down every case into its simplest anatomical form and to communicate our findings with definitive clarity.

One scorching Houston night, burned, bloodied, and beaten patients were pouring into the level I trauma center’s emergency department. I was the lone first-year radiology resident on call, and as the night wore on, the massive injuries got increasingly worse, and I got increasingly nervous. Exhausted (but too scared to stop moving), I found myself staring—to the accompaniment of the panicked shouts of the chief surgical resident—at a cervical-spine exam that genuinely stumped me. I’d never faced such a diagnostic dilemma, and the clock was ticking.

Harris had told us that he was always on call and always available to help, but it was 2 am. If I paged him, would it be a career-limiting move from which I’d never recover? With no other choice, I called Harris, future holder of the ACR® Gold Medal and one of the most highly regarded and recognized radiologists on the planet. In 15 minutes, he greeted me with a reassuring smile. With limitless patience and laser-focused concentration, he gently guided me to the correct diagnosis. Afterward, he said that he had been awake, working on a research project, when he got my page.

Shocked, I asked what spurred him to accept challenge after challenge, having already reached a pinnacle of success. He told me that he viewed his role as a radiologist as a precious gift and as a unique opportunity to make a difference, so he never gave up striving for excellence, exploring the unknown, and teaching others to find their own paths to greatness. Beloved of technologists, nurses, and physicians alike, Harris acted as an ambassador of diplomacy and inclusivity, expecting all of us to treat others with the utmost kindness and respect.

Today, I find myself using the same tools and skills that these leaders before me have demonstrated. Whether I’m revising protocols, leading a quality-improvement project, serving as a principal investigator for a research project, or organizing an educational symposium, I’ve learned that a radiologist’s personal and professional success can be achieved through hard work and perseverance; patience and empathy; effective, transparent communication; and engagement with (and recognition of) others.

In these uncertain and challenging times in healthcare, I implore you to look deep within yourself to find what excites you and what keeps you interested and motivated. For many of us, just keeping up with the breakneck speed of technological innovation and government mandates can be overwhelming. The world that I knew as an impressionable medical student and resident is far different from the one in which I live now. I am neither discouraged nor dissuaded, however; instead, I’m a realistic optimist who approaches every day as an opportunity to partner with clinicians, associates, and patients—to make a difference. 

Lisa A. Laurent, MD, MBA, is medical staff first vice president, CT medical director and ultrasound co–medical director, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, and chair of CT medical directors, Advocate Health Care, Park Ridge, Ill.