Veterinary medicine trades in the grossest things. While working in an inner city human ER may best veterinary medicine on the “dirty job” meter, that’s only because of the presence of the microscopic filth that can kill you. I think my profession is way more disgusting––grossly, anyway.

That’s why my pre-teen son worries he might not be able to hack a distinguished career in veterinary medicine.

A couple of months ago, he asked––in grave tones––whether he could realistically become a well-paid veterinarian without suffering the stench of rotting abscesses, expressing anal glands and watching pets die on a regular basis. Oh, and add minimal client exposure to the list. Given that kind of wish list, I quickly responded, “Sure. Become a veterinary radiologist.”

A radiologist still has to get through the clinical trials of vet school, of course. But the truth is that it’s easier to power through when your eyes are focused on a prize of much-higher-than-average pay and a wealth of clinical options:

Interventional radiology uses your mad computer game skills. CT scans and MRIs are way cool to undertake. X-rays can be a work of art. And radiation therapy can be soooo rewarding. All that, and you’re never the number one on the case. Though your work is crucial to the patient’s outcome, you seldom have to suffer the direct stress of client interaction and pet death. (And you can still pet the puppies and kitties all you want.)

The hard part? Getting into a residency program. Just as in human medicine, veterinary radiology is slowly becoming a competitive alternative to standard clinical practice. And it’s not just about the pay and the one-step-removed psychological advantages––it’s also about the lifestyle.

Depending on the version of radiology you want to specialize in, much of your work can be done remotely. Satellite hook-up in Costa Rica sounds nice, right? It’s doable. And still lucrative. As long as you’re good at what you do, you can do it in style (from a sailboat in the Pacific, perhaps?) depending on your choice of radiological sub-specialty, of course.

Clearly, the attractions of radiology are many. And it’s becoming more popular now that telemedicine is in widespread usage and general practitioner demand for second-opinion interpretation services is up (I use them frequently).

Despite the draws and its increasing popularity among those seeking advanced training, veterinary radiology is still far away from the human side when it comes to recruiting droves of candidates competing for a small number of spots. While most young physicians would kill for a slot in radiology, when it comes to veterinarians...not so much. The overwhelming majority of us still want to play at being a James Herriot in all his glory...and grossness.

I find it interesting that with the disgusting toll vet medicine can take, with all the stress inherent to public interaction, with all the suffering we have to bear witness to, radiology hasn’t yet made the big leagues (popularity-wise) in vet medicine.

Among specialists, surgery still ranks highest (and most competitive). Oncology and internal medicine come next. And yet many of the surgeons, oncologsts and internists I know say the same thing: “I kinda wish I’d gone into radiology.”

So a radiologist it is, says my son. Now all I have to do is find a way to help him finance it on my single-mom, general practitioner’s income. Sigh...