Collins Career Corner

What to Consider Before Pursuing a Career in Academic Practice (Hint: Perk Alert)

November 18, 2019

Do you find the allure of scholarly pursuits irresistible? Are you passionate about education and/or contributing to the advancement of knowledge? Do your hobbies include accumulating credentials and publishing research?  Do you thrive in an intellectual, community atmosphere? Are you fond of tweed?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, academic radiology may be the right practice type for you (okay, the last question was a joke). 

Academic practice is unique in several respects and can be a very rewarding, fulfilling career path for many radiologists. As promised, this post will cover some of the practical particulars and potential perks of this practice type. 

Here are some key aspects to consider when considering a career in academic radiology:

Compensation

Academic salaries tend to be lower than those of private practice positions, but keep in mind that salary is only a part of total compensation. Academic radiologists often have the opportunity to contribute to a variety of retirement plans through both the physician practice and the university (including a state pension), and may be able to convert unused sick days to pay for post-retirement health insurance costs. Additional perks also often include generous health insurance benefits and access to free tuition for children in college.  

Scholarly activity

The ability to engage in scholarly pursuits is clearly a compelling and distinguishing factor that draws many radiologists to this type of practice. Traditionally, academic radiologists have resources and mentorships available to them, locally and nationally, to help them succeed, and also non-clinical time to support their scholarly work.  Academic practice can also afford radiologists the opportunity to give presentations all over the country (and sometimes all over the world), network with colleagues also involved in scholarly activities, and play a big role in directing the future of radiology.  

While there is nothing preventing radiologists in non-academic settings from participating in these activities, very few have chosen to do so because of heavy clinical volume and lack of mentoring, especially if this type of activity was not valued by the other members of the practice.

Leadership opportunities

There are abundant leadership opportunities for radiologists in the academic setting within the department, hospital (e.g., medical staff and other committees), university (e.g., associate and assistant deans), locally (e.g., officer of the state radiology society), and nationally (e.g, committee chair or officer of radiology societies).   Those interested in teaching can become residency or fellowship program director or director of the medical student radiology clerkship.   

Practice location, location, location

Another unique aspect of academic practice is the inherent role geographic location plays in your career and the implications it may have. Radiologists who want a career in academics have to go where the medical schools and universities are located.  This may mean living further from family and friends than desired.  

There are also fewer choices in academic practices than in private practices. In a tight job market, that can mean accepting a job in a different state and/or city that’s larger or smaller than you might’ve hoped. It almost always means spending at least some time practicing in a hospital setting.

Regardless of practice type, location is an important lifestyle consideration.  It will behoove you to give this decision careful thought and honestly assess the factors that are most important to you with regard to location. Potential factors to consider might include whether there are suitable schools, places of worship, cultural opportunities, the weather, distance from family, affordability and availability of housing, and convenient access to a major airport. Outside of work, could you be content living in the location in question?  If you’re in a committed relationship, your spouse’s or partner’s happiness in a given location is also a major contributing factor to your choice of employment (ahem, right?).  

In academic practice, the size and type of a workplace setting are also often location-related variables with a more limited degree of choice. Many academic radiology departments are quite large and the radiologists may not all know each other.  Group size varies in private practice as well, but even the smallest academic groups have to be of a certain minimum size to meet criteria for residency and fellowship training program accreditation. Alternatively, private practice radiologists work in all types of settings (e.g., rural, urban, suburban, community hospitals, and outpatient settings), and can join groups ranging in size from sole practitioner to mega-groups with hundreds of radiologists.    

Practical matters aside, the decision to pursue a career in academic radiology, perhaps, comes down to passion and personality—and possibly proficiency.  Whatever your proclivities, one thing is certain: in academic practice, there are plenty of niches to be found.