First Year Out of Fellowship: A Conversation With Zohaib Ahmad, MD

September 29, 2022
Zohaib Ahmad, MD, assistant professor of radiology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Zohaib Ahmad, MD, joined the Department of Radiology one year ago, after finishing a musculoskeletal radiology fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. Ahmad is taking advantage of all that Columbia and New York City have to offer—from a new role in the department as associate director of medical student education, to French lessons and figure drawing.

He spoke to us about the challenges of transitioning from fellow to attending, a typical day as an MSK radiologist, and what his career at Columbia has been like so far.

What made you choose academic medicine, and Columbia in particular, for your first job out of fellowship?

I knew I wanted academics because I like variety and activity—talking to clinicians, discussing things, doing some research, reading some studies. And I like teaching. During fellowship, I had a little bit of experience with remote work, because it was the middle of the pandemic. We were four fellows, and one of us would be at home for a week at a time. And by the end of that week I'd be going crazy. I'd take a break and go to the coffee shop down the street just to say hello.

I was happy that Columbia was offering interviews because I've always wanted to live in New York. The advice from my mentors was, "It sounds like a great place with great people, and I think you'd thrive there."

What was the biggest challenge as you transitioned from fellow to attending?

The thing that comes to mind is confidence. I think you could say that this is a consistent challenge throughout life. You get trained really well in fellowship, but then you come out and for some reason, you start seeing stuff you've never seen before. You're making decisions on your own, and you start second guessing yourself. And then you're surrounded by everyone else in the MSK division, who are all so incredibly smart and experienced. It's almost like imposter syndrome, and I think everyone goes through it on a new job.

I hope that I'm making good solid reports that are helping the clinicians, clarifying all the findings, and saying it in an understandable way. And after being here for a year now, I'm feeling comfortable and more involved in the department.

What research and education opportunities have you taken advantage of here?

I'm associate director of medical student education, which right now involves keeping the department's many radiology med student programs going while the director is on leave. And I'm getting my feet wet with research. I wasn't a big researcher in residency, and there's a lot of support here. One of my research projects involves working with our physicists to make our lumbar spine MRIs quicker—and I mean a lot quicker, like five minutes. I'll be comparing those faster image sequences to our current protocol, to make sure they are still diagnostic. The other project involves looking at subscapularis tendons. Sometimes tears can be very hard to diagnose on MRI, so I'll be looking at the features of that tendon versus what was found on surgery and seeing if we can be better at detecting tears.

I'm still looking for my research niche.

What do you like most about your job?

The thing I like most is that everyone is really great and helpful. That was one of my requirements when I was searching for a job, that I would find a group of people that were easy to get along with. It makes all the difference.

Describe a typical day at Columbia musculoskeletal imaging.

I get in in the morning and grab some coffee before going into the hospital. Then I'll text to figure out who's taking which resident, and I'll assign my resident some cases. And then I start reading studies. Right now high school and college sports are starting, so we're seeing a lot of sports injuries. I've always been interested in sports injuries, because everyone has some sort of muscle pain or joint issue. I think it's really cool trying to understand the mechanism of injury. How did this pain happen?

If I'm on procedures, the ultrasound tech will call me when a patient comes in, and I'll go do the procedure. If it's an interesting procedure, I'll bring the resident. Sometime in the morning I'll read out the resident. I try to make it a relaxed environment for the residents.

How does New York City compare to the various cities you've trained in?

I love New York City. It's so diverse, and there's so much to do. I can go hear amazing world music that I would never hear elsewhere. Sometimes I go to the Met to do some figure drawing—learning to draw the human body was a pandemic project of mine. I'm also taking French lessons. And then there's great food as well.