January 1997

Our Professional Identity

By Michael J. Katin, MD

As the profession of medicine continues to find itself threatened by the constant barrage of changes many physicians find themselves experiencing an identity crisis in terms of each person's goals and hopes for the future. Fortunately, in radiation oncology, we have succeeded in averting this by never having been able to establish an identity for which to have a crisis.

When I was in medical school I was told (by a surgeon) that the oldest sibling going into medicine usually decides to become a surgeon, whereas the average anesthesiologist tends to be the second or even third sibling going into medicine, reflecting the personality characteristics in birth order and how they can be matched to the nature of the specialty. No one had ever commented as to the position in the birth order that it takes to become a radiation oncologist. The first problem is that the name of the specialty itself (therapeutic radiology, radiation therapy, radiation oncology) is constantly in flux. Today's radiation therapist is the RTT of yesterday. We have the continuing confusion as to the relative roles of the medical oncologist and radiation oncologist.

In addition, the majority of patients cannot understand the difference between a radiologist and a radiation oncologist,whereas any of us are well aware that, before the onset of interventional radiology, the diagnostic radiologist theoretically could go through an entire career without having to risk physical contact with another human on a professional basis. There still remains a level of shielding protecting the diagnostic radiologist from direct involvement in decisions regarding the patient as well as interactions with innumerable family members making contact at totally random intervals by telephone or arriving at the eleventh hour from Michigan. Having said that, we now have the President of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology writing to ask for us to vote for our representation in the AMA House of Delegates to be given to the American College of Radiology. Although there may be merit to this, I would also suggest that perhaps the United States Government should follow suit and assign our voting rights in international organizations to Great Britain.

email: mkatin@radiotherapy.com