This January, I spent three days shadowing Dr. Sanjiv Bajaj ‘02, section chief of ultrasound in the Department of Radiology at Staten Island University Hospital. During my Princeternship, I was given the amazing opportunity to observe Dr. Bajaj and various residents at work in the Radiology department of their hospital. I soon learned that Dr. Bajaj’s primary role as a radiologist is to “read” a variety of medical scans and determine whether a patient’s internal organs show any evidence of abnormalities. By synthesizing information from a variety of sources, such as each patient’s medical history and prior radiological scans, radiologists are able to play a critical role in diagnosing patients with a wide array of conditions.
In some sense, radiologists like Dr. Bajaj are analogous to detectives in that they try and to piece together a set of clues to “solve” a patient’s case. In addition to diagnosing individuals, alternative possible explanations, known as “differentials,” for a patient’s condition can also often be ruled out with the help of radiological scans. Radiologists look at scans in specially-designated “reading rooms,” where a series of four dedicated monitors can display current and prior patient scans, as well as notes made by the technicians performing those scans and information regarding their medical history.
Not long before my visit, Dr. Bajaj had been seriously hurt, forcing him to use a pair of crutches to get around the hospital. When others invariably asked about his leg injury, he would sometimes describe the damage using the precise medical language he also employed while “reading” a radiological scan. Because of the secluded setting in which radiologists “read” patient scans that seem to depersonalize the doctor-patient relationship, my first impression was that radiology was a particularly disconnected specialty, as the tangible physical separation from patients implied a mental distancing from the practical and interpersonal aspects of medicine.
Yet, my time at the hospital showed me that my naive judgments were flawed and did not reflect the realities of being a radiologist. Even though his injury prevented him from interacting with patients and performing scans on them, it was clear from watching Dr. Bajaj interact with others that what a radiologist does is readily applicable to everyday life and that medicine is an inherently practical fieldnot at all disconnected from the interpersonal aspects of medicine. And if not for his injury, Dr. Bajaj would typically perform all of the radiological scans on his patients himself, as he says that he enjoys interacting with his patients. Medicine, after all, is about patient care. Similarly, in contrast to my expectations that radiologists are more reclusive than other types of physicians, Dr. Bajaj is the definition of outgoing. His sociability and enthusiasm can’t couldn’t even be contained by the crutches that keep kept him physically confined to a desk for the large part of his day during the time I visited.
Overall, my Princeternship was an invaluable experience, and I know that my time at Staten Island that provided me with a much more detailed and nuanced view of the inner workings of being a doctor at a major teaching hospital. I also received a tremendous amount of advice about medical school and about life from Dr. Bajaj and the residents in the Radiology department there, and for that I am incredibly grateful. I am especially thankful for all of the time that Dr. Bajaj devoted to allow me to shadow him during the week. This experience was more than I could have asked for, and I’m glad I was given the opportunity to delve more deeply into the world of a physician.