2022 JRF Trainer Award - Winner's full interview

Interview with Dr Louise Wilkinson, Consultant Radiologist at Oxford

The interview was conducted by Dr Sai Hyne

Congratulations on your award. Did you always plan to participate so heavily in education? 

I don’t think that I ever planned very much but I have enjoyed taking advantage of opportunities as they arise and seeing what happens. I have found that being enthusiastic and getting involved has made my career very interesting, although sometimes very busy. I have come across some great teachers such as Basil Shepstone and Gerald de Lacey for whom I have developed great respect and would like to emulate – I think that the attributes that I have really appreciated include approachability and a systematic approach to learning.

What keeps you teaching and what is your favorite style of teaching?

I like teaching with small groups, especially trying to establish some fundamental principles in trainees who are less experienced. I also enjoy teaching some of the more practical skills such as US and interventional work on a one to one basis. I find the lack of interaction when lecturing large groups is frustrating – I once gave a carefully considered lecture on chest x rays which I had tried to pitch appropriately, to a year of medical students and was taken back to be asked ‘what is the mediastinum’ at the end of the talk. I find that I always learn a lot when I put together a lecture, especially trying to avoid any questions that I can’t answer. More recently I have been doing some work with the National Breast Imaging Academy, writing and editing modules on breast radiology – I think that the Academy has developed an amazing resource with a systematic approach to carefully curated modules that is available to all trainees through eLFH.

Did you always want to become a Radiologist? 

I decided at medical school that I wanted to be a radiologist – I like the visual nature of the task. I have enjoyed being a breast radiologist because of the mix of mammography reading, US and intervention. But in particular I have found that the access to information about activity and outcomes has allowed me to think around the subject and develop a deeper understanding, and I have been able to explore some of these areas with colleagues through the quality assurance process.

What part of your career have you enjoyed the most? 

I think that I am enjoying this part of my career most having moved on from departmental management responsibilities. I currently have a role with NHSE which means that I am able to be involved with changes in the NHSBSP, especially development of a new IT system. I can see the potential for developing teaching material that reminds me of the RCR Validated Case Archive that I worked on in 2007.

If you were to be starting your career now, would you do anything differently? If so, what? 

I think that radiologists starting today may have a different approach and different tools to support them, so their careers may well be different to mine, but I would hope that the team approach will persist. I have been blessed with very supportive colleagues over the years which has allowed me to take advantage of opportunities that have arisen.

Who inspired you throughout your career? 

I have already mentioned Basil Shepstone and Gerald de Lacey, but there are many others including my O’level physics teacher, Malcolm Millership, Nick Ridley, Ros Given-Wilson, Sam Heller and Sue Hudson. They all share qualities of enthusiasm, approachability and memories of ‘what if conversations’ that made me think more widely and see opportunities.

Medicine has changed so drastically over the last decade. How do you think Radiology now differs? What do you prefer and what do you wish was still in practice? 

I think the most important change is the ease of access to information, but that brings a need to be able to sift the reliable, useful facts from the dross, and there will always be need to keep conversations between colleagues at the centre of what we do, to ensure that we can sense check our beliefs and understanding.

Radiologists are trained very differently now to when you were training. What would you advise to those of us that are still learning? 

Nothing matches the experience gained by looking at real cases and understanding the facts that led to a diagnosis. I think that the human stories behind the images help us to understand the impact of what we do and make any learning more memorable. When I was a teenager and told my family GP that I wanted to be a doctor, he advised me that ‘you miss more by not looking than by not knowing’. I have found this to be true almost every day of my working life, and I am often thankful that being systematic and not cutting corners, has saved me from sleepless nights.

How can we improve recruitment of specialist breast radiologists?

I think that we need to ensure that trainees get involved in their local breast imaging units at an early stage, and ensure that they have an opportunity to get involved with all aspects of our role.  The mix of practical skills and the understanding that caring communication can make a real difference to patients’ experience have been important to me.  I also like the analytical approach afforded by the access to well-organised information on screening outcomes, and this is likely to be increasingly part of the work of the next generation of doctors.

Do you have a stand-out moment in your career of which you are most proud? 

Probably being awarded RCR trainer of the year! It was very unexpected and I am so proud to be supported by such enthusiastic trainees.

What do you like to do outside of work? 

Enjoying my husband’s cooking, gardening, and enjoying the Oxfordshire countryside.

Being a doctor is very rewarding, and equally a challenge. What one piece of advice would you offer for a successful and happy career? 

Respect and support your colleagues and be prepared to get involved and see where every opportunity takes you. 

Is there anything else that you would like to add for radiology trainees or radiologists that are interested in teaching? 

I found that the teaching that I appreciated most was systematic, using carefully selected cases to explore a topic. I have tried to emulate this, and I have found that by preparing well and documenting what I am thinking, I can use the set of cases on multiple occasions, so that the work done in advance of the teaching session saves me time in the longer term.