Updated: Apr 25, 2019
Trying to figure out what kind of doctor you should become? Wondering what specialty you should choose? Then SheMD's Why Specialty Series is perfect for you! We're bringing you female physicians sharing WHY they chose their specialty. Today's post is on why Dr. Malik chose the field of Breast Radiology and why Breast Radiology is a great field for women.
Since October is breast cancer awareness month, we thought we should talk about a specialty that helps to prevent, diagnose and treat breast cancer. Enjoy...
Breast radiology combines everything that drew me to the practice of medicine: patient care, problem solving, physician teamwork, procedures, peer support, public health and policy. However, my route to discovering breast radiology was not straightforward. I had to discover myself in order to discover my perfect career path.
As the child of two physicians, it seemed predestined that medicine would play a part in my future. My mother practiced primary care in a rural community. The wide variety of pathology and the relationships she formed with patients always made her work exciting and rewarding. My father’s career in anesthesiology, on the other hand, demonstrated how specializing could offer its own rewards: the pride of mastering a field and being able to assist fellow physicians. Like my parents, I wanted to dedicate myself to helping others, but I did not know which of their paths was the one for me.
When I started college, I was unsure if I had truly explored all career options. I studied everything from economics to sociology, but it was public health that really captured my interests. I dove into each aspect of the field, from health policy to epidemiologic research; each aspect piqued my interest, and the process of exploring them helped me recognize my goal-oriented personality. I learned to value research and advocacy, but realized that, more than anything, I wanted to solve people’s problems by working with them directly, and I felt I could do that best through medicine.
I entered medical school with the intent to practice primary care. I daydreamed of moving to a remote foreign land and tackling rare diseases, and I fully expected to enjoy the close care and management of my patients. However, this changed after my internal medicine clerkship; managing hypertension and diabetes did not inspire me. I panicked. What now? Thankfully, in my efforts to be a well-rounded internist, I had picked up a copy of Felson’s Chest Radiology Primer. I expected this to be a dull dissertation on an area of practice far removed from patient care. But I was wrong; this book opened my eyes to the complex world of imaging and how it can improve lives. With this newfound knowledge, I started my surgery clerkship. Most medical students spend hours in the operating room retracting, but my attending focused on breast surgery. I first-assisted on small surgeries and spent time in clinic doing image-guided biopsies. I attended multidisciplinary breast cancer conferences where I saw the team approach to breast care. I read my first mammogram, and I was immediately hooked.
My attending pointed me towards breast imaging, and introduced me to a (gasp) FEMALE radiologist. She exposed me to the world of breast imaging, and the way in which it combines diverse methods of patient care into one practice. The variety of technology and the problem solving involved with each case played to my introspective, cerebral side, while the direct patient interaction and multidisciplinary care would fit my outgoing, social side. Like other radiologists, I would be the doctor’s doctor, but in this world, I would also be the patient’s doctor, seeing patients for diagnostic evaluations, performing ultrasounds and image-guided interventions, and leading patients through breast cancer treatment.
I feared that my hand-eye coordination would not be up to the task of anything procedure-based – but that turned out not to be the case! The breast surgeon with whom I worked built up my confidence, complimenting my steady hand, my calm demeanor, and my ability to keep patients comfortable during biopsies. I truly enjoyed working with my hands, which I never expected.
Unlike some other areas of medicine, including radiology, women have a robust presence in breast imaging and a leading role in the field. Several of the fellows and attendings with whom I worked were women, and my current practice is equally balanced with male and female colleagues sharing both clinical and administrative responsibilities. I also found that the prevalence of breast cancer and the differing opinions on screening meant that I would utilize my public health and policy background. In fact, just this week I delivered a lecture based heavily on both screening mammogram guidelines and high risk screening protocols! I also participate in clinical research. While all work in medicine matters, knowing that fight against breast cancer assists a large portion of the population makes it that much more rewarding. Finding the right career in medicine will take time, trial, and error. Explore your options enthusiastically, and you will learn a lot about health care—and yourself—along the way. The answer may not be obvious at first, but it is out there. If you, like me, are drawn to so many areas of practice, then look to breast imaging and the diverse field it represents. It might be the perfect career path for you too!