Teaching radiology to undergraduates: 4 academic fields that would benefit

The field of radiology has a lot to offer undergraduate students, according to a recent column published in Academic Radiology—and it is not just the students who would benefit.

“We believe that radiologists can make sufficiently important contributions to the education of college students, that doing so serves the long-term interests of the field of radiology, and that becoming involved in undergraduate education can serve as an additional source of challenge and fulfillment for many radiologists,” wrote authors Richard B. Gunderman, MD, PhD, and David Alvarez from the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

The authors noted that, when radiologists teach in undergraduate classes, it gives the students “an important opportunity to interact with role models with substantial, ongoing experience in patient care.” Gunderman and Alvarez then listed numerous academic fields that would benefit from learning radiology at the undergraduate level. These are four such examples:

1. Biology

“Many students in fields such as biology long for an opportunity to study human biology,” the authors wrote. “By drawing on radiology in teaching such preexisting courses, radiologists can give undergraduates an opportunity to witness human anatomy, physiology, and pathology in vivo.”

This would also let students “test the waters of patient care,” giving them a “taste of what studying and practicing medicine someday would actually be like.”

2. Physics

The foundational principles of physics can be found everywhere in radiology, so why not use the specialty to help students stay interested?

“Showing students actual radiological images helps to breathe new life into the study of topics that students might otherwise find rather uninteresting,” the authors wrote.

3. Engineering

The authors pointed out that the construction and operation of imaging equipment offers engineering students quite a bit to consider. Also, brainstorming about ways to reduce scan times and make the equipment cheaper to produce are the types of exercises engineers love to explore. Even if students don’t plan on getting jobs in healthcare, Gunderman and Alvarez wrote, interacting with radiologists as undergraduates can still get them to learn an important lesson on the value of “interprofessional collaboration.”

4. Computer Science/Informatics

Dealing with large sets of data is something every radiology department and practice must deal with in one way or another. It’s a perfect problem for undergraduate students to discuss: What else should radiologists be doing? What are they doing wrong now? How will the larger data sets associated with newer modalities impact specialists? While radiology’s finest are already on the case, one never knows what kind of ideas groups of students may come up with if they work together. If nothing else—much like engineering students contemplating imaging equipment—it’s an exercise that helps students think outside the box while in the classroom.

The benefits for radiology

In addition to helping students in these fields—and many others—the authors emphasized that teaching radiology to undergraduates also has an obvious impact on student interest in radiology as a whole.

“Getting radiologists involved in undergraduate education can help to open the eyes of students who never considered a career in health care, provide students already interested in medicine an opportunity to interact with a physician, and draw some students to careers in radiology,” they wrote. “By simply taking this first step into predominantly uncharted academic territory, radiologists can show undergraduate students a side of medicine that they might overlook or know very little about.”

Overall, the authors concluded, teaching radiology to undergraduate students would benefit both the students and the specialty itself. And while opponents may point to financial reasons why this should not occur, Gunderman and Alvarez wrote that it ultimately comes down to more than just money.

“Some might say that teaching undergraduates could never generate a revenue stream sufficient to adequately compensate radiologists or their practices for time lost from clinical work, and they may well be right,” they wrote. “But generating revenue is not a radiologist's only professional responsibility, and for the appropriate radiologists, the opportunity to get involved in enhancing the education of bright undergraduate students can turn out to be a rewarding calling.”