RSNA Blog: Pondering patient-centered practice


After a day of exploring RSNA, it is remarkable how good it feels to sit back in the overstuffed chair in my hotel room and ponder all that I’ve seen today. I was especially inspired by Dr.  George Bisset’s Presidential Address, and the moving recollections of cancer survivors and lung cancer advocates Sheila Ross and Dr. Karen Arscott.

As a medical student aspiring to a career as an academic radiologist, I often get funny looks from my peers and superiors when I explain that I want to go into radiology because I love working with patients. With the “Patients First” agenda introduced by Dr. Bisset and supported by the RSNA, I am hopeful that radiology is on its way to becoming a specialty where meaningful interactions with patients are the norm rather than the exception. As Dr. Bisset pointed out, however, rhetoric is not enough. Rather, we need to apply patient-centered thinking to the care that we provide every day.

However, as a medical anthropologist (someone who studies health-related beliefs, cultures and behaviors), I am intimately aware of the ways that our medical system can make patients feel vulnerable, anxious, humiliated, or powerless. For me, Dr. Arscott’s vivid recollections of her experiences as a cancer patient served as an important reminder that even those who are considered “insiders” in our culture of medicine (i.e., physicians) still require reassurance, compassion and respect from their caretakers. Consider, then, how someone without the extensive medical knowledge and support of Dr. Arscott might feel.

It also struck me, as I listened to the President’s Address, that another potential resource for radiologists as they learn to put patients first can come from fellow RSNA members—that is, from colleagues in radiation oncology and from radiology technologists. Radiation oncologists, such as our RSNA president-elect Dr. Sarah Donaldson, have spent their entire careers helping guide patients through some of the most emotionally-charged and difficult clinical scenarios imaginable. Similarly, radiation technologists spend their days interacting with patients, calming their fears and answering their questions. Listening to their voices when contemplating how to make radiology more patient centered is crucial if we are to be successful in this endeavor.

And so, to build on Dr. Bisset’s challenge for radiology to put patients first, I will try to find “our patients” at RSNA. In what ways do patients enter into the scientific research, education and technical portions of this conference? Or do they? Stay tuned.


Dr. Tillack recently completed her PhD in medical anthropology, and is currently in the MD program at the University of California–San Francisco.