What it's like to be in interventional radiology: Shadowing Dr. Ding


As a medical student, do you ever wonder what it’s like to specialize in interventional radiology? Here’s your chance to find out.

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Meet Alex Ding, MD, a radiologist and featured physician in AMA Wire’s “Shadow Me” Specialty Series, which offers advice directly from physicians about life in their specialties.

Read Dr. Ding’s insights to help determine whether a career in interventional radiology is a good fit for you.


“Shadowing” Dr. Ding

Specialty: Interventional radiology (IR)

Practice type: Hospital-based, large single specialty group practice.

A typical week in my practice:

A typical day includes arriving to work at 7:30 a.m. to review the schedule and [do a] workup [of] the patients for the day. First case starts at 8 a.m. A usual day [involves] about six to eight cases, which include multiple types of procedures using multiple technologies. 

Some cases include biopsies, drainages, paracentesis, thoracentesis, joint injections, nephrostomy tubes, gastrostomy tubes, biliary drains, tumor ablations,, bleed embolization and multiple others.

One of the best aspects of this specialty is the breadth of different procedures you can perform. Between cases, I call back referring physicians and consults regarding future procedures and complete EMR notes. I usually finish the day at about 5:30 pm.

My typical week [includes] four days [of] clinical and one  day off for administrative or personal tasks. I also rotate between three different hospitals in the county.

The most challenging and rewarding aspects of caring for patients in interventional radiology:

Catering to a broad panoply of specialists, understanding their specialty well enough to speak the same dialect of medicine, and understanding their treatments and how I can be an adjunct for their patients [can be challenging].

The most rewarding aspect is that as a radiologist, I still maintain regular contact with patients and take care of them face-to-face. I have many patients who see me for a number of different problems, and establishing long-term relationships is wonderful.

Three adjectives that describe the typical physician in interventional radiology:

Visual.  Problem-solving. Creative.

What my lifestyle is like in interventional radiology:

The lifestyle is significantly better than expected, especially for a proceduralist. My call schedule, work hours and workload are all very well balanced.

The main skills every physician in training should have for interventional radiology but won’t be tested for on the board exam:

Manual dexterity, anatomic understanding, procedural planning and execution. (The board exam is very heavily focused on the diagnostics of imaging rather than the procedural aspect.)

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Three books every medical student interested in interventional radiology should read:

  • House of God by Samuel Shem (This book is not IR-specific but is a must-read for all trainees. Good humor is needed these days in medicine.)
  • Redefining Health Care by Michael Porte (it’s important for young IRs to think about proving value in health care as we move forward.)
  • Handbook of Interventional Radiologic Procedures by Krishna Kandarpa.(This is a quick and easy way to understand a wide range of IR procedures, including the step-by-step technical aspects.)

Two online resources students interested in my specialty should follow:

Additional advice for students considering interventional radiology:

IR recently became recognized as its own specialty. There are now two routes to practicing IR. One is the traditional route through a residency in diagnostic radiology and a fellowship in IR.  The other is the new direct IR pathway, which is a residency and fellowship combined [that] is more heavily clinical. There are plusses and minuses to each way, but read up on those differences and understand what works better for you.

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