When teaching radiology, don’t forget to embrace the unknown

Most articles in today’s radiology journals focus on specific case studies or problems facing the industry. A recent editorial published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, however, really caught my eye by taking a deeper, more philosophical approach.

In the article, authors Christian W. Cox, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and Richard B. Gunderman, MD, PhD, of Indiana University in Indianapolis, suggested that educators in radiology are relying too heavily on asking and answering straightforward questions with only one correct answer. Instead of just focusing on questions where the answer is already known, they wrote, it is also important to embrace the unknown from time to time. Consider questions that have no set answer, for instance. Study complex cases that leave you wanting to learn more.

“Only by encountering the limits of our own knowledge can we identify questions worth exploring further,” Cox and Gunderman wrote. “By ‘explore,’ we mean not looking them up in a book, but trying to figure out an approach to understand them better and begin to get some answers.”

Wow! That’s some heavy stuff, right? And it makes a lot of sense.

It’s obviously crucial in radiology education to learn the “right” answer to many, many things, but it can be helpful to think outside the box from time to time and just see what happens. As the old saying goes, sometimes you have to jump in at the deep end to learn to swim.

Also, as Cox and Gunderman noted in their editorial, an added benefit of this style of teaching is that it helps put the educator and the learner on equal footing. It’s not simply one person teaching the other; it’s two people learning together. And as much as the science and technology in radiology are continuing to evolve, there is great value in finding ways for the relationship between educators and learners to evolve as well.