Leaders in Medical Education

Dr. Cheri L. Canon, American College of Radiology

Osmosis Team
Jun 12, 2014

Dr. Cheri L. Canon, the Chair of the American College of Radiology Commission on Education, works to improve the quality of medical training and continued education in radiology. In the past, she has helped to implement an organ-based curriculum during her time as the UAB School of Medicine Curriculum Committee Chair. We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Canon about her career path in radiology and her interest in medical education.

How did you decide on a career in medicine?

I honestly cannot remember how I came to that decision. From grade school, I always had an interest in veterinary medicine. At some point in high school, I shifted interest and started working after school in a family physician’s office. Initially, I worked as a clerk organizing medical records. Eventually, Dr. Charles Tubbs allowed me to bring patients back and conduct their initial vitals screening. He could clearly see my interest and enthusiasm, so he allowed me to spend more time observing as he interviewed and examined patients. Additionally, he brought me along on hospital rounds. Because of this remarkable experience and mentoring, I made a firm commitment to become a physician.

What made you pick radiology as your specialty?

Early on, I thought I wanted to be a pediatrician; I have no idea why. After my first pediatric rotation, it was clear that peds was not my calling. I enjoyed almost every other rotation but was more drawn to the surgical specialties. After a rotation in orthopedics, I decided that was the specialty for me. I loved the surgery and the satisfaction of fixing things. During the early stages of the residency application process, I took an elective in radiology, which I thought would be beneficial for orthopedics training. Spending time with the radiologists, particularly Drs. Sandy Rubin and Mel Schreiber, really changed my view of the role of imaging in patient care. I loved the role of doctor’s doctor and the breadth of knowledge the radiologists commanded.  At that point, I fell in love with imaging and never looked back.


It seems that more medical students are pursuing interdisciplinary careers and degrees (MD/MPH, MD/MBA, etc). Can you describe how you managed to combine your career in medicine with your interest in education?

I stumbled into academic medicine somewhat fortuitously. During my second year of residency, my mentor Dr. Bob Koehler suggested I partner with one of the gastroenterologists with whom we collaborated on ERCPs. This resulted in a publication and presentation at an international meeting, and I was hooked. Once I joined the faculty at UAB, I gravitated toward the educational opportunities. Because of many wonderful mentors, I was given remarkable opportunities, including serving as Chair of the UAB School of Medicine Medical Education Committee. During this time, we implemented a new organ-based curriculum. This was a rare chance for me to see the true underpinnings of education. After that, I took every opportunity to get more involved, including Director of Medical Students in Radiology, Associate Residency Program Director, and eventually Residency Program Director. Education was clearly my calling.

Every few weeks there appears to be a new report discussing burnout rates of physicians and the fact that many would decide not to pursue medicine if given the chance. In this somewhat disheartening environment, do you have any advice for current medical students about avoiding burnout? Or more general advice? 

We all need balance in life, whether a physician or not. Sometimes this balance is more difficult to obtain as a physician. However, there now seems to be more appreciation of its importance. In addition to balance, you must do what you love. I firmly believe this, regardless of the current reimbursement and regulatory environment. Medical students should not select careers based upon future monetary projections. Society will always need doctors. If you have a passion for something, you will find a way to make it work, and you will learn to maneuver through the obstacles. When you wake up in the morning, you should be excited about your job. If you aren’t, you need to consider something else.

What are the top two or three things you would change about the way we train our physicians?

I think the first big step has been taken at many institutions, which is to teach our medical students in a manner that more closely approximates how they will practice medicine; that is, by organ systems and disease processes rather than traditional courses such as physiology, biochemistry, etc. Education should be interactive and tailored to the learner.

Additionally, we need to spend more time expanding the traditional medical curriculum to include soft skills, such as emotional intelligence and communication, as well as topics on the business of medicine, and leadership. With the complexity of medicine continuing to increase, it is important that we function in interdisciplinary teams and truly collaborate. We need to do this more formally and not only in medical school, but throughout residency training.

Finally, we need to teach our trainees a more global perspective. The world continues to get smaller, and we must understand the healthcare of other nations so we can help meet those needs as well as our own. Additionally, this allows for a better exchange of information.