Sean D. Pierce, MD, is chair of the Department of Radiology at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, New Jersey, and a partner in the Hackensack Radiology Group. As he serves both the physicians and patients at New Jersey’s largest hospital, Pierce draws on lessons he learned during his residency at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology.
Sean D. Pierce, MD
What attracted you to radiology?
I am a very visual person. And I enjoy technology. For me, radiology was a wonderful way to integrate those interests. From a visual perspective, what we deal with in radiology are images, representations of things that are behind the veil. We are able to see things that other people can’t see without opening a patient up. That is a bit of magic. That was something that immediately attracted me, that sense of wonder.
Another thing was the technology. We have great toys in radiology. We’re right at the leading edge. Everything is on fast-forward. If there’s anything that’s true about radiology, it is that things will always change. We’re always re-inventing ourselves. Other specialties are beneficiaries of what originates in radiology. It is a great engine of innovation.
Why did you choose Mallinckrodt for your residency training?
When I came for my visit and saw Mallinckrodt, it was eye opening. Frankly, it was a little like Disneyland. Seeing a multistory building dedicated strictly to radiology was extraordinary. The amount of resources dedicated to this one specialty was incredibly impressive to someone entering the field.
Who were some of the instructors at Mallinckrodt who left the greatest impression
Stuart Sagel was head of chest. He was brilliant and an incredibly inspirational person. He could have a strong personality. In days past, we dealt with physical film we’d look at on our view boxes. The instinct would be to reach for it and touch the film. He didn’t approve of that. He would ask, “So, what does that feel like?” You realized at that moment you’d made a mistake. Louis Gilula was the orthopedic imaging head. More than anything else, he taught me about the relationship between the radiologist and the referring clinician. In radiology in general, we operate behind closed doors. We tend to fall into our own world and own sphere. But truthfully, we are the doctors’ doctor. Lou taught me it is incumbent upon us to understand what kind of problem the referring clinician was facing and what we could do, what information we could add to improve the life of the patient.
How else does your time at Mallinckrodt continue to play a role in your life today?
Several of the people I met during my time at Mallinckrodt are the people I count as my absolute closest friends. There’s Sanjeev Bhalla, who is now chief of Chest (the cardiothoracic imaging section) at Mallinckrodt. Christine “Cooky” Menias is at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona. Perry Pickhardt is now chief of gastrointestinal imaging at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, Wisconsin. All three of these people really helped me so much in my personal growth and in making my time at Mallinckrodt an absolutely positive experience.
Please tell us about your current dual positions as chair of the Department of Radiology for Hackensack University Medical Center and as a partner of Hackensack Radiology Group.
Our practice is in contract with the hospital. I’ve been in practice 14 years, and I have been chairman at Hackensack for two years. It’s a 900-bed hospital, New Jersey’s largest. Within the department we have 225 employees. I’m also chair of the Department of Radiology at a satellite location, Hackensack UMC at Pascack Valley, which is a 128-bed hospital. I split my time between administrative tasks at both institutions as well as clinical duties. Several years ago, our practice made the commitment of providing 24-hour, seven-days-a-week radiology internal coverage to the hospital. Many other groups in the country have either contracted out those additional shifts or simply left them alone. We have an active pool of around 25 radiologists, who are split between three shifts to provide that coverage. We’re a busy group.
What projects have you ushered in as chair?
We’ve undergone a technological revolution internally. Voice recognition has come online for us. Historically, institutions like Mallinckrodt relied on in-house transcription. We’ve turned to voice recognition and made the effort to make sure it works effectively.
How has your practice changed over the years?
Previously we’d been responsible for providing imaging for a large number of cases. Now we’re expanding our value-added qualitative practice; we’re morphing into a greater level of service within the context of integrated care. That means in addition to the interpretive services we provide, we’re also participating in the conversation about health care in conferences and in committees at the hospital and other health institutions. We are active on the regulatory side of the equation. It is important for all of us to be aware and present and engaged in that conversation.
What are your interests beyond radiology?
Photography has become a real interest of mine. I know you could say that as a radiologist that I’m all about the image. However, life has taught me in the recent past that at the end of the day, all you have left after any given experience are the pictures and the memories.