IR Profiles

Dean Thongkham, MS4, St. George’s University

Interventional radiology is one of the most dynamic and versatile fields in medicine. Because of the diversity of practice, procedures, and pathologies, medical students may be limited in their exposure and thus understanding of the field. IR Profiles is a series of interviews with currently practicing interventional radiologists. From academia to private practice, from vascular disease to women’s health – this series will aim to explore the breadth of IR and better inform medical students as they decide on their future careers.

 

Dr. Sun Ahn

Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University/Rhode Island Hospital Vascular and Interventional Radiology Fellowship Director

Assistant Professor of Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University/Rhode Island Hospital

Training and Experience:

Medical School Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
Radiology Residency Rhode Island Hospital
IR Fellowship Rhode Island Hospital
Type of Practice Hybrid (Academic and Private)
Years of Experience 12 years
Subspecialties Peripheral vascular disease, venous reflux, women’s health, medical student education

How did you decide on a career in IR?

First, I chose radiology because of my experience during medical school. In the hospital, I was very impressed by the intelligence of radiologists and how they were fluent enough to converse with a variety of subspecialties. I was drawn quickly to interventional radiology as I wanted more direct patient care and liked procedures. I chose radiology over surgery as I felt that minimally invasive treatment was the future.

How did you choose your subspecialty?

My areas of focus in interventional radiology are the results of both my personal interests and the practice I chose. Being part of a large hybrid practice, I have the privilege of practicing clinical interventional radiology full time. My personal interests with IR include PAD, venous reflux disease women’s health and medical student education. Obviously, PAD was a large part of my training and first love in IR. As my experiences grew and the field of IR evolved venous reflux disease and women’s health have become personal interests. I have always been fond of medical student education in IR. I luckily tripped upon IR by serendipity but feel that more medical students need to be formally introduced to IR earlier in their education.

Please describe your typical week.

My typical week includes office hours, procedures, administrative duties, and, of course, call. All of our elective outpatients are seen in our outpatient office in which I spend one day every week. We see consults, review results, follow-up, and perform office-based procedures. The remaining four days are split among dedicated procedure days (2-3 days) and administrative duties as the fellowship director and co-director of radiology education. I am on call one in every eight days.

What are some of the rewards and challenges you face in your field?

The greatest reward is being able to do what I love – IR in a clinical setting. I really do not consider it work. I have always advised students to choose do what they like so that they could be lucky like me. I also like my practice because I get to teach and work with residents, fellows and medical students, which is a passion of mine.

The biggest challenge still today is IR branding. It is an ongoing battle of societal education of IR that we must continue to fight for growth of our field and optimization of patient care. If the referrers do not know what we do, their patients’ will not be able to realize all of the potential benefits that our field can provide. That is why medical student education is so vital. We do not expect all those exposed to IR choose IR as a career, but they will be aware of what IR can do for their future patients.

Where do you see your field headed in the next 10 years?

I think the way that IR moves forward in the future is tied to the changes in the healthcare system, including the emergence of account care organizations. In the future the physicians who can treat patients in the most cost-efficient and effective manner will ultimately be the ones providing care. There will be an increased emphasis on quality metrics and treating patients in the best way possible, instead of the previous emphasis on quantity of studies or procedures. I think IR will be very well set up  for that model as we will be able to treat multiple disease processes and patient populations. The new IR residency will also play a significant role, as it will provide more comprehensive education including clinical care of the IR patient.

What, if anything, have you had to give up to pursue IR?

Everyone’s practice and job is different. I am blessed to be able to work in a practice, which affords me the opportunity practice clinical interventional radiology. The pursuit of IR has only brought me  professional and personal gratification.

What are some aspects about your work that medical students may not know?

Medical students crave information. Unfortunately, not all students are exposed to the exciting and rewarding field of IR. Despite our efforts, many students still are not aware that IRs perform consultations, perform procedures, admit and care for our patients, and perform longitudinal care. Medical students need greater earlier exposure to all facets of IR. At Alpert Medical School of Brown University, as a result of hard work by all, we feel that IR education has made significant strides but we still have more work to do.

What advice do you have for medical students considering a career in IR?

For medical students, picking a specialty can be very difficult. You should explore what we do as IR and also explore other fields as well to see what fits you the best. As long as you are doing what you love, the rest of it, including the turf battles and economics, are just noise. If you do your job well and take care of patients, everything else will fall into place .

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