Alumni Spotlight: Sandra Ruhs, MD

Sandra Ruhs, MD, is the director of the women’s imaging department at Diagnostic Imaging Associates in Des Moines, Iowa. The practice’s mammography department has been named one of the “Breast Imaging Centers of Excellence” through the ACR since July 2013. Ruhs, who was instrumental in launching a new multidisciplinary clinic for women’s health in 2017, relishes radiology’s vantage point across the medical spectrum.
What attracted you to radiology?

I took a non-linear path to radiology. After I graduated from college, I was a medical technologist working in a lab. I determined that I needed more of a challenge. I went to medical school when my son, Kevin, was 2 and my daughter, Diane, was 8. It wasn’t an easy path. At that point, I assumed I would go into family practice, pediatrics or pathology because those were the three areas I knew the most about. It wasn’t until my senior year that I got enough exposure to radiology and determined that I wanted to maintain a cross-sectional path across all aspects of medicine. Radiology does that. And because it’s shift work and provides some structure in scheduling, radiology seemed to be the best fit for my family.

Why did you choose Mallinckrodt for your residency training?

I was extremely fortunate that Mallinckrodt chose me. An advisor at Iowa strongly suggested I apply. I was intimidated by Mallinckrodt and its grandeur. My interview was good but overwhelming. I mean, Stuart Sagel and the giants of the training ground were all there. It was their reference books they were using. I didn’t put Mallinckrodt as my first match because I wasn’t sure I wanted to go that high-key. I didn’t get my first match. Mallinckrodt was my number two and they accepted me. I loved it from day one.

Which instructors at Mallinckrodt made the greatest impression upon you?

As program director of body imaging at that time, Dennis Balfe had a huge influence. He was a hands-on person; we learned by doing. He was able to appreciate the learning curve that all of the residents had to go through. Yes, he could do it faster and better, but we kids had to learn and he allowed us some freedom to do it while still following procedure.

Seeing how well Jay Heiken spoke and interacted so smoothly with peers in the rest of the hospital was a great influence. Bill Middleton is still one of the ultrasound kings in imaging. Bill could lean over and adjust your hand on the transducer to show you something you were overlooking or how to optimize the imaging. Hal Bennett was a young staff member at that point. He was unfailing in putting in the long hours and the extra time when needed and he was always there, eager and smiling.

Your practice, Diagnostic Imaging Associates, is practically its own Mallinckrodt alumni chapter.
Ruhs running the 2015 IMT half-marathon in Des Moines.

Yes, the group I work with is just under 40% Mallinckrodt graduates. We know each other’s training and can bounce ideas and questions off one another.

What do you enjoy about body imaging and women’s imaging?

It goes back to why radiology is important – it deals with the whole body. Abdominal scans, CT – those are the work horses of oncology, urology and emergency medicine. It’s a strong, diverse and multidisciplinary field. Women’s imaging is a natural offshoot of that. It’s the same modalities and cross-exposure to primary care, family practice, surgeons and oncologists.

You played a critical role in opening a new clinic this year, the Mercy Comfort Health Center for Women. Please tell us more about the clinic.

It was an idea that a breast surgeon and I and a couple other friends had for about eight years. We worked with Mercy Hospital’s administration to develop a site where women in their prime of life – post-child-bearing years up through geriatric medicine – can receive all their care. We offer internal medicine, pelvic, urology, gynecology, breast cancer imaging and breast health imaging in multiple modalities. We’ve added a wellness therapist, physical therapist and mental health therapist, services that are needed on a regular basis. We opened in April and have been steadily building clientele by word of mouth.

What are your interests beyond radiology?

Most of the residents I worked with at Mallinckrodt know my kids. My daughter, Diane, used to babysit for some of them. Diane is now an engineer for UPS in Louisville and has two daughters, ages 5 and 2. My son, Kevin, is an engineer at Polaris in a suburb of Detroit and has a 2-year-old daughter. We have a Disney cruise planned for the whole family; vacation is a way for us to spend time together.

About five years ago, a friend in our group asked if I wanted to start running. I went from a 5K in the spring to a 10K in the summer to a half marathon in the fall. Since then, I have become a bit compulsive and have run at least one or two half marathons every year. I did my first full marathon last fall. Running is a nice physical challenge, and a mental challenge as well – to test your limits, to see if you can get beyond a point of discomfort or boredom and finish your goal.