– Why I Became a Radiologist
Growing up as a child, when one visited the doctor’s office, there were frequently magazines in the waiting room called “Highlights” that had pictures hidden within pictures and you had to find the hidden shapes and animals. I first noticed these as a child and soon became obsessed with them. I seemed to have a special talent for solving these puzzles. Later on, as I entered medical school, I drifted from rotation to rotation – from surgery, to medicine, to psychiatry, to pediatrics and obstetrics. Nothing seemed to match my personality and skills. I knew I could not be a surgeon, as I did not have the mechanical skills or dexterity required for that specialty. Then came my three week rotation in Radiology at the University of Maryland. On the first day, I instantly knew that this was for me. Each x-ray was basically a “Highlights” magazine with hidden pictures within it, and your job was to find the problem or lack of problem in each case. I knew right away that this was the career for me.
Later I decided to do an extra month of radiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital with Dr. Robert Gaylor. One day I was reviewing the CT scans with Dr. Gaylor, and one of the Baltimore Oriole star pitchers came into the department for a procedure to be done by the bone radiologist. This was prior to the invention of magnetic resonance imaging. Apparently, the Orioles player was going to have an arthrogram. I was amazed that a radiologist could have an important role in helping with the care of professional athletes. This stuck with me the rest of my life.
As a child, I longed to someday have a role in professional baseball, however, I knew I would never be good enough to actually play. My baseball card collection numbered well into the hundreds, including several famous players of that era. Despite the dominance of lacrosse as the childhood sport in the Greater Baltimore area, I was part of a group of determined neighborhood kids who played sandlot baseball on a daily basis.
In dugout before a Rays Game – Stephen Anderson, MD, Lou Piniella, Chris Anderson, Matt Anderson
I attended Towson High School in Baltimore, where I enjoyed the outdoor sciences, particularly field biology and ornithology, among others. During school we took an aptitude test to see which field we were most suited for – and of course I scored “park ranger.” In the spring of my senior year, my public school guidance counselor called me down for his “routine” check on his students and asked me if I was planning to get a job or join the military. This man had been virtually nonexistent throughout the whole college application process and I promptly answered, “Sir I have been accepted to Johns Hopkins University, The College of William and Mary in Virginia and Washington University in Saint Louis for college, but thank you very much.” It was my mother who had been the most helpful with the college admissions process. The public-school guidance counselor had been virtually nonexistent.
The college of my choice was The College of William and Mary in Virignia, which I attended from 1976-1980. During those years, it was the outdoor sciences that I excelled in, and I took multiple courses in marine biology and aquatic biology. I was leaning towards a career as a marine biologist, either at Woods Hole in Massachusetts or at the Institute of Marine Science in Virginia. I did my senior thesis on “red algae cell division” under the electron microscope, along with my mentor at the time, Dr. Scott. One day we were on the James River collecting algae specimens for the study, and a school of bluefish came in attacking the live bait with a frenzy. I immediately left the group collecting algae, ran to my vehicle, grabbed my omnipresent fishing rod and promptly threw a lure towards the advancing schools of bluefish. Professor Scott reprimanded me for fishing, as I needed more focus on the task at hand of collecting the algae specimens from the beach. It was then I realized that perhaps this was more of a hobby and that marine biology, in fact, was very much laboratory work. Having done extensive laboratory work at Johns Hopkins, both in my father’s lab and in Vivien Thomas’ dog research lab, I knew what laboratory work was. The reality of my lab work in both of those jobs was rat dissection, including putting rat spleens in the blender and shaving dogs’ bellies for pre-op. The professors at William and Mary commented that “with your grades you should go to medical school.” This influenced me tremendously, and I decided I should go to medical school.
The medical school of my choice was the University of Maryland. During these years I had decided that radiology would be the specialty I would pursue. One day, the Dean of Students called me into her office. She wanted to know what my future plans were. She discouraged me from doing radiology as, at the time, it was highly competitive. While I had done reasonably well in medical school, there would be no guarantee I would be accepted into a residency program for radiology. She suggested that I do a residency in internal medicine, pediatrics or in some other field, but I was determined and felt from my experience with the rotation at Johns Hopkins, that I had a gift for this field.
On match day of my senior year at medical school, the computer “spits out” the residency program where you will be assigned. My roommate, Dr. Tad Schwartz, handed me a special “voodoo” token to hold in my pocket for good luck from the New Orleans Mardi Gras. I had ranked several of the radiology programs above the internal medicine programs. The envelope was opened on stage in front of the rest of my class. I was overcome with joy, as I had matched in radiology at the University of South Florida in Tampa. (Had the “voodoo” lucky charm worked……?)
1984 Medical School Classmates and “Rossiter Country Club” members- Tad Schwartz, MD, Dale Meyer, MD, Stephen Anderson, MD and Rick Downs, MD
During my residency at the University of South Florida I enjoyed my time and was looking forward to joining a private practice, however, I got more competent advice from my chairman Martin Silbiger. He told me that with my test scores and diagnostic talents, which were extremely high, I should probably do an advanced fellowship instead of going straight into private practice. I applied for several fellowships, including University of Virginia, Bowman Gray at Wake Forest and Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. I also received a private practice offer at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa which paid much more. After being accepted to Duke University for an MRI fellowship, my chairman agreed that I would be best served doing an additional year of fellowship training at a prestigious hospital like Duke. This fellowship paid considerably less, but the long-term result, with more advanced training in MRI, would greatly benefit my career. MRI had been invented during my residency and was coming into more frequent use in clinical practice. I was the second resident at the University of South Florida at that time to do an MRI Fellowship at Duke University.
We initially began doing MRIs on Duke basketball players to see if we could diagnose the injuries on their various joints. It soon became clear that musculoskeletal imaging using MRI was going to be a huge part of Sports Medicine. I had found my niche. While at Duke University, a randomized study was done to test the innate abilities of the radiologists. An aptitude spatial resolution test was administered to the residents and fellows to determine both innate spatial ability and the ability to detected nodules. Apparently I excelled on this test which further substantiated my choice for radiology for a career.
After leaving Duke University, I came to St. Petersburg and began doing large volumes of orthopedic MRIs. However, St. Petersburg had no professional sports teams, though we did have spring training baseball. I began reading x-rays for the St. Louis Cardinals spring training team on a voluntary basis just to get my “foot in the door.” The City of St. Petersburg made an effort to get the San Francisco Giants, and I was somewhat involved in that process but this soon failed. In 1996, major league baseball brought a major league franchise to Tampa Bay, and I became one of the candidates to be the team radiologist. Subsequently I flew out with the major league trainers in Birmingham, Alabama to meet with team physician, Dr. James Andrews and his radiologist, Dr. Martin Schwartz, who also happened to be a classmate of mine. From this point on, and for the past 26 years, I have enjoyed fulfilling my dream of being an integral part of Major League Baseball.
The fact that I now have two American League Championship rings from the World Series of 2008 and 2020 is more than I could have ever imagined as a child who enjoyed sandlot baseball and Highlights magazines.