Medical students exposed to radiology early are more invested in the long-term

Though radiology's complex nature makes incorporating its curriculum into the first year of medical school difficult, exposing students to the field early can grow academic interest, improve perceptions of the specialty and emphasize its importance in daily practice, according to a study published ahead of print in Academic Radiology.

Med school curricula change regularly to comply with shifting guidelines and accommodate new research, Michael Kraft, BS, and colleagues at the University of Michigan wrote in the journal—but radiology is often left out of the equation.

“Traditionally, at most American medical schools, students do not receive significant exposure to radiology until their later clinical years, when they may enroll in an elective radiology rotation,” Kraft, a clinical professor and assistant director of pharmacy education and research at Michigan, wrote. “However, previous research suggests that basic attitudes concerning radiology are created early in medical school and remain mostly unchanged throughout despite a later radiology elective.”

When the University of Michigan Medical School’s curriculum underwent some recent changes, Kraft and his research team incorporated a new, imaging-focused two-week course into medical students’ schedules. The class, called “Foundations of Diagnostics and Therapeutics,” was implemented early in the students’ first year of school and included eight full class hours of radiology material.

The course also comprised 12.5 hours of pathology and 20.5 hours of pharmacology, the authors explained, and to cater to a new generation of medical students, it also employed a flipped-classroom approach and interactive sessions. 

“The objective of the radiology component of the course was that students will learn to identify key radiologic findings on a variety of imaging studies and explain the diagnostic significance of these findings in various clinical presentations,” Kraft et al. said.

During the two weeks, students were required to attend a two-hour chest radiography seminar, a handful of interactive patient presentations and four 90-minute, case-based sessions presented on “Radiology Day” during the second week of the course. Students laid the groundwork for the hands-on sessions at home with online video lectures, quizzes and modules.

Kraft’s team found through pre- and post-course surveys that while just 4 percent of students walked into the course feeling they had sufficient background knowledge, 53 percent left feeling the same way. Academic interest in radiology also jumped from 54 percent before the course to 69 percent after it, and 24 percent more students saw the speciality as “essential” to patient care after taking the class.

“Given that the day-to-day practice of radiology is so different in nature from other more clinical specialities, it is an area of medicine that is difficult for those without exposure to extrapolate what the practice may be like,” the authors wrote. “Considering that the curriculum was designed primarily as a radiology topic overview and not as a window into the career of a radiologist, even a nonsignificant trend toward greater career interest reflects a greater appreciation for the workings of a radiologist.”

The researchers said students’ biggest complaint about the course was its lack of anatomical overview, since, at that point in their med school careers, most hadn’t taken many anatomy classes. Still, they said, the class seemed to be successful in helping newcomers to the field understand the impact of radiology, as well as its basics.

“I believe this is a very important part of the curriculum due to the growing use of technology in medical diagnostics,” one student wrote of the course. “Radiology is one of the areas that will see great changes, so we must be ready to absorb those when they come.”