Waiting for Test Results? Radiologist Knows What It’s Like
Shuchi Rodgers could barely contain her anxiety. What would the diagnostic tests of her twin sons show? Would their genetic disorder result in abdominal cancer, as she feared? For four years, the boys had blood tests every six weeks; for eight years, ultrasounds every three months.
Dr. Rodgers is Vice-Chair of Abdominal Imaging and Director of Ultrasound at Einstein Healthcare Network. Waiting each time for her twins’ test results was so harrowing that it transformed how she practices medicine. “It changed me forever,” she said.
Dr. Rodgers’s prenatal ultrasound had been worrisome: the placenta looked abnormal, evidence of what she feared could be Beckwith Wiedemann syndrome, which raises the risk of childhood cancer. But she allowed her suspicions to be allayed by reassuring physicians, and the twins’ diagnosis was delayed for months after birth. That wouldn’t happen to the emboldened woman she has become.
“I stand up for what I believe in,” she said. “I’m resilient, I’m strong and I’m passionate about what I do.”
Dr. Rodgers was on bed rest for nine weeks during her pregnancy. One of the twins developed a severe intestinal infection when he was a week old and nearly died. Then there were the many months of blood tests and scans, and the excruciating suspense waiting for the results. Her pain seems fresh, although the boys, now 9 years old, are healthy. She also has a 13-year-old son.
“It makes me appreciate everything I have,” she said, casting a meaningful glance at the family photos taped to a filing cabinet in her office.
The searing experience also motivates her to be unwaveringly tenacious about getting to the bottom of a patient’s problems.
Dr. Rodgers acknowledges that many people think of radiologists as functionaries who sit behind computers, interpret studies that technicians perform and report back to treating doctors. For her and her Einstein colleagues, that’s just not true. Indeed, she said, a good radiologist is crucial for an accurate diagnosis.
“I’m like Sherlock Holmes,” she said. If a patient’s symptoms don’t match test results – if someone with suspected gall bladder disease has severe abdominal pain but a normal gall bladder, for instance – she doesn’t just issue a report. She keeps searching until she finds the cause of the pain. “A radiologist can’t just read the images; you have to look at all the clues.”
Dr. Rodgers is also a Clinical Associate Professor of Radiology at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. Her impressive career includes national speaking invitations, multiple honors and awards, and a long list of peer-reviewed publications and other articles. She accomplished all of this while assiduously monitoring her children’s health.
Given what she’s been through, Dr. Rodgers has deep empathy for patients who are severely worried about what the test results show. And while most scan results are relayed to the treating doctor to inform the patient, in some cases Dr. Rodgers tells the patient herself.
“If a patient is anxious but the study is normal, I try to allay their fears,” she said. If there’s an acute medical finding that needs further attention, she’ll break the news to the patient to ensure they follow up. She decides what to do on a case-by-case basis.
“I try to imagine myself in their shoes and how I’d want to be treated,” Dr. Rodgers said.
For years, she was in their shoes, waiting for the results of her sons’ tests. It changed everything. “Before, I was doing my job,” she said. “Now, after my experience, I have a mission.”