Jacienta Paily, MD, Fourth-Year Radiology Resident

You can ask a patient questions and get an idea about what’s going on clinically, but when you look at that X-ray, you can see it! When you see that CT, there’s your answer. It’s all detective work.

Jacienta Paily always knew she wanted to work in medicine. Nevertheless, when she received an invitation for a residency interview with Columbia Radiology, she decided it must be a mistake. “I thought it was a joke,” she remembers. “Or they just had a space to fill. I had imposter syndrome the whole time.”

Meeting the residents and faculty on interview day solidified her dream to be a resident at Columbia. She knew that if she was accepted, she could become a great radiologist here. “When I got that acceptance letter, I was over the moon.”

Now in her fourth year of residency, Paily is an integral part of the department and will stay on for a body imaging fellowship at Columbia in 2022.

The daughter of Indian immigrants who settled in Westchester County, New York, Paily inherited her passion for medicine from her father, an anesthesiologist at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. She also remembers growing up surrounded by people who had medical problems—whether it was relatives in India or the priest at her church. “My siblings didn't care about diabetes, but I’d ask, ‘Why do you have diabetes? What does that mean?’ I was just very curious,” she says.

As an undergraduate at New York University, Paily decided to do a deep dive into all the possibilities that medicine offers as a career. “I knew I wanted to be in the hospital taking care of patients,” she explains. "I didn’t know the whole scope of medicine.” She shadowed everyone from the cleaning lady to surgeons, physical therapists, and social workers. “That helped solidify that my brain and my personality fit with being a doctor.”

Paily is warm and empathetic, and many people told her she would be a great pediatrician or family medicine doctor. But having grown up loving mystery documentaries on television, she knew she was headed in a different direction. “I’m a sucker for anything forensics,” she says. She found that radiology gave her both the satisfaction of investigative problem-solving and the knowledge that she was helping patients.

“You can ask a patient questions and get an idea about what’s going on clinically,” she explains, “but when you look at that X-ray, you can see it! When you see that CT, there’s your answer. It’s all detective work.”

Paily, who is the mother of a one-year-old son and pregnant with her second child, has thrived in the rigorous residency program at Columbia. “I’m a hard-working person by nature,” she says. “If you give me a tougher task, I do it, and I do it well.” In addition to her clinical training, she is involved with medical student teaching—another passion—under the guidance of Dr. Pallavi Utukuri.

When the hours reading cases and taking care of her son get long, Paily thinks about her parents, whose stories started in India, where life was harder. “I don’t wake up at four in the morning and go fetch food and milk for breakfast, like my parents did growing up," she says. "So taking a few minutes to finish all the cases, or spending some time every day to study? That’s not a big deal.”