This Princeternship at the Staten Island University Hospital took place under the guidance of Dr. Sanjiv Bajaj ’02, who serves as a radiologist and Chief of Ultrasound. Along with another student, Blake Feldman, I participated in a three day survey of Dr. Bajaj’s job. I had never shadowed a doctor before, and it was an immensely rewarding experience to not only learn what a doctor does on a daily basis, but also see the special nuances of radiology, which is a personal field of interest for me.
When I first arrived at the hospital, I looked around for Dr. Bajaj and was told to find him in the “bullpen” which, as I learned, is a term for a radiological reading room. As I first entered the bullpen, I got to meet a variety of radiologists all viewing different scans of patients. There, Dr. Gail Yarmish introduced me to the basics of understanding CT scans. Soon after, I got to meet up with Dr. Bajaj and Blake and I followed along as Dr. Bajaj progressed through his workload. In general, Dr. Bajaj looked through scans, pointed out abnormalities or features in the images he saw, and recorded his observations and recommendations using a speech-recognition system. Though he could have worked in his office, Dr. Bajaj explained that he liked working in the bullpen because he got to talk and discuss cases with the other radiologists present, ultimately offering the most accurate diagnoses. Similarly, Dr. Bajaj called a lot of physicians to discuss diagnoses and treatment plans. That day, Dr. Bajaj was on call and worked through a variety of scans exhibiting many conditions. Through abdominal CT scans and chest X-rays, I had the opportunity to look at interesting cases like surgical complications and cancer as well as less problematic things like pregnancy and bone deterioration, which Dr. Bajaj assured me was something quite typical with age. As Dr. Bajaj examined the scans, we discussed epidemiology and the causes and treatments for some of the disease states he recognized. In particular, I recall learning about nutrition and how poor eating habits can lead to liver damage. Lastly, I observed Dr. Bajaj fill out an ethical examination, something that was mandatory for doctors.
The next day, Blake and I attended a radiology meeting for residents. There, an attending physician brought up case studies for residents to discuss. The format of the meeting was kind of like a seminar and kind of like an exam in which residents were asked to correctly diagnose or observe things from a scan. Apart from this, I got to meet Dr. Omar Arnuk, a neuroradiologist, and got to observe his job to some degree. He mostly looked at MRI’s of the brain. In particular, he brought up an interesting case study in which, though it was dangerous, surgery was successfully performed on a homeless man who had a minute abnormality in the brain. The surgery was undertaken because, though it would have been safer later on, the patient was assumed not to be coming back. I thought this decision of a risky surgery was particularly moving. Rejoining with Dr. Bajaj, I observed him work through scans and we discussed why he chose radiology as a field. He explained that it appealed to him to work on the diagnostic arm of medicine, and though some did not like the lack of patient interaction intrinsic to his role, he still got to see patients and had other forms of interaction such as health education.
On the last day, I met Dr. Bajaj at the nearby radiology clinic. Here, I saw him do a fluoroscopy test on a patient who had trouble swallowing. Using oral contrast that showed up vividly on the scanning device, he was able to see the blockage in the passage of fluid in the patient’s digestive tract and recommended action for her esophagus. I also got to meet a technician and view how a CT scan is conducted in practice. We discussed the technology and 3D-picture construction the machines performed. Next, I sat in on another radiology meeting, this time discussing a more powerful MRI machine and the possibilities it offered. I was not able to understand too much of the talk, but the intimate link between technology and medicine that radiology offers was exciting to me. Afterwards, I met up with Dr. Bajaj again and, after a few scans, it was time to say goodbye.
I am extremely grateful to Dr. Bajaj, his colleagues at Staten Island University Hospital and Princeton Career Services for guiding me through this experience. I learned a lot about a branch of medicine I would like to pursue. Grounding myself in a hospital environment, I was able to see how a radiologist acts through not only analyzing scans and performing tests on patients, but organizing information with other physicians and working on a team. Radiology, having a diagnostic role, is something I did not truly understand, either technically or personally before this experience. Dr. Bajaj’s actions and advice on the role and responsibility of a radiologist and doctor as a whole are things I will not forget and will carry on my own journey as a pre-med student.