Why perception makes or breaks radiology education programs, clinical practices

Acute perception—the ability to comprehend thoroughly with the mind and see something for what it is—is a necessary skill for radiologists.

But in a Sept. 3 editorial in Academic Radiology, Richard Gunderman, MD, PHD, and Parth Patel, from the Indiana University School of Medicine, discussed how radiologists may find more joy in their work and improve their clinical performance if they develop a deeper understanding of perception.

Perception is not a skill one is born with; it's learned, especially in the field of radiology, the authors explained. Additionally, they noted several ways in which one learns to perceive or types of “perceptional learning," including distinguishing between different objects, recognizing similarities in different things and directing attention where it's due.

Over time, perceptual learning acquired by radiologists can draw a distinction between a novice and expert, according to the authors.  

“As novices progress along the path to expertise, they are not merely accumulating facts but refashioning their perceptual systems,” the authors wrote. “Visual expertise is not an automatic perceptual skill and requires attention and semantic skill.”  

Expert radiologists not only see and perceive things in a medical image less experienced individuals can’t. They also know what to identify and what to ignore in a goal-oriented manner that requires adaption and timeliness.  

“Experts can not only select out the most salient features of a static image, but also integrate what they see at any particular instant into an event or process unfolding over time, in a way somewhat analogous to a medical prognosis,” according to the authors.  

Perceptual learning is as important in clinical practice as it is in radiology education, the authors explained. Radiology students should be focused on not only what to know and do, but also why they do something to adapt to a situation.  

No matter how good the eyes of radiologists, if they come to regard patients as anatomic specimens and fail to recognize their underlying humanity, then the development of their refined perceptual capabilities will have been for naught,” the authors wrote. “Perception is shaped not only by theories but also by the character of those doing the perceiving.”