Medical students interested in radiology are worried about AI—but they’re still applying

Though the idea of artificial intelligence displacing radiologists worries more than half of surveyed medical students interested in an imaging career, radiology programs have seen a spike in applications in recent years, according to work published in Academic Radiology.

In a letter to the editor, medical student Kush Purohit, who attends Ross University School of Medicine in Barbados, argued that while a study published in the journal last November found 56.4 percent of surveyed students interested in radiology felt “worried” about seriously considering the career because of advances in AI, they’re being exposed more than ever to different facets of the radiology world.

“Students are experiencing a greater exposure to radiology than in previous years,” Purohit wrote. “Not only are schools now implementing radiological imaging into their preclinical curricula, the increasing imaging procedures being performed in hospitals mean that students are inevitably exposed to more plain films, CT scans, MRIs and interventional procedures during clinical rotations.”

In the November study, authored by Bo Gong, MSc, and colleagues, increased student exposure to radiology was linked to a statistically significant decrease in AI-related anxiety. Indeed, data from the National Residency Match Program (NRMP) for the 2017-2018 match cycle indicated a 38.8 percent increase in applications for diagnostic radiology compared to the 2014-2015 cycle. Nearly 7 percent of applicants applied to diagnostic radiology programs—the highest percentage since 2010.

A good chunk of radiology applications in 2018 were for interventional radiology (IR) programs, according to the NRMP, which could correlate with the “widely held perception of procedure-based sectors of radiology such as IR and mammography being impervious to AI.” Last year, 607 applications were submitted for 133 IR positions.

“The declining interest in primary care and surgical specialties may cause radiology to appear more attractive to medical students,” Purohit wrote. “As radiology’s perception as a ‘lifestyle specialty’ is unlikely to change in the near future, this should also reassure radiology program directors.”

So, though Gong et al. found more than half of interested students expressed worry about a career in radiology and an additional 16 percent abandoned the specialty entirely over fears of AI, Purohit said applications for radiology are at their highest in a decade, with a record 2,584 applications submitted in 2018.

“It is worrisome to consider that some of the brightest and most innovative minds in medicine may choose to avoid a career in radiology when the need for diagnostic imaging is at its highest,” he wrote. “Application data clearly shows that medical student interest in radiology is at its highest in 10 years, indicating that factors such as increased exposure, innovation and lifestyle are likely to drive students to fulfill the growing need of diagnostic imaging experts for the foreseeable future.”