Dr. Anne G. Osborn Interviewed by Dr. Miriam Peckham

Dr. Anne G. Osborn, past president of the ASNR, founder of the Anne G. Osborn ASNR International Outreach Professorship Program, and neuroradiology trailblazer is well known throughout the field for her groundbreaking work. Author of “Osborn’s Brain,” she has been an invaluable educator. Personally, she has been a very influential mentor, and I was honored to interview her. 

What are your tips for making and delivering effective presentations?

It doesn’t matter if you are giving a presentation, writing a paper, or a chapter: you have to think of yourself as a storyteller. You are going to be telling a story with a beginning, middle, conclusion, and some mystery and fun along the way. Think about the story you want to tell, but also the story the audience needs you to tell. Even if it interests me it may not interest them. That’s how I begin. I tell the story and then summarize. For a paper – you’re going to tell it 3 different ways – the first is in the abstract (maybe the only thing 90% of people read) so it needs to tell the complete story in a short space. The second is your illustrations – they should be so good that if somebody only looked at those and the captions they should get the same message. Finally, in the text you’ll describe it so well that even if there were no illustrations your audience should be able to visualize them. So you’re telling the story three times. Part of telling a great story is also showmanship – no one will complain about entertainment.

How can a junior radiologist gain opportunities to speak professionally?

First of all, start at home and do talks for your own department – residents and medical students. Accept any opportunity that you can to put together a talk. Ask your colleagues to go over it with you, and invite them to see you speak. It’s important to go to each other’s talks – how else would we know who gives good talks? They can then recommend you for further opportunities.

People have asked how I got on the international circuit – I’m not too proud to say that years ago I came off the bench to lecture for Dr. Hans Newton in China when they needed someone on short notice. I flew over and did the lectures. They were so pleased that I was invited back many times. So take any opportunity you can and make the person who recommended you proud.

What are some areas that you see Young Professionals struggle with when presenting at conferences and seminars?

Trying to tell too much is a common mistake. This happens in both writing and lecturing. Instead of trying to get people to drink from a firehose you should ask yourself: “when I finish telling this story what do I want people to remember? What are the 3 or 4 most important points?” You don’t want to give them an encyclopedic response on the topic – they want the expert who has read it, lived it, and researched it to tell them what they need to know. Think from an audience perspective – they aren’t interested in seeing a “hot shot” spewing facts. You may be trying to stun them with your knowledge – but they are usually stunned into sleep with that approach.

What is your advice in forging a career as a young academic?

Neuroradiology is now such a broad subspecialty. You have to be comprehensive and competent in all areas, but it’s really important to find a niche area and refine it and make it into your craft. There is a big difference between “subject matter” and “craft.”

Find your corner to do exceptionally, and this will benefit your colleagues and department. Find your niche. Whether it be spine procedures, 3D modelling, AI, hone your craft. When I went to the AFIP in 1989/90 I knew the faculty were some of the best in the country. I went to their lectures – I wanted to see how they did it. What I realized was that my current lectures weren’t bringing anything different to the table. What made the lecturers at AFIP different was that they put in the time and effort to gather the pathology and gross images and correlate them with imaging examples. Inspired by them I redid all of my talks to integrate neuropathology and apply it to neuroradiology with rad/path correlations. I did that the rest of my career and that has been my niche area. So find your niche and love your craft. And remember we are all students. The day that you think you can’t learn more from anyone else, that’s the day you should retire.

Also, realize that there are many different ways to develop a stellar neuroradiology career. People always think the most obvious way to do this is to be a researcher with an NIH grant, but few can do this. If that is what success means to you then most of us will fail. But when you look around you have to realize that many successful colleagues have never received NIH funding but are icons in their field. How? They have developed novel ways to understand, and teach, disease and anatomy. For example, Dr. Ric Harnsberger, he was able to define head and neck anatomic compartments and fascial layers and how disease spread along them. That’s how he made his career. We put together Amirsys – that is another way to progress in your career. There are those that have published books that are considered standards in the field. I looked and saw a better way to teach radiology was to apply pathology. I never had an R01 – but I have had a successful academic career.

What are your thoughts on the choice between academics and private practice?

As we interview fellow applicants they refer to wanting a “hybrid” of both – but those kinds of jobs aren’t very common. It is hard to do both. Dr. Michael Huckman (former editor of AJNR) recounted a conversation with a fellow. The fellow asked “if I go into private practice, year 1, I will make more than you do as a full professor, so why do you do what you do?” Dr. Huckman responded “I do it because I love the profession and I love teaching, and through academic neuroradiology I have friends and colleagues all over the world. If I go to India I will eat at a friend’s home. You’ll make a lot of money and do a good job, but if you go to India you’ll go on an arranged tour.” If you’re in private practice and make a lot of money and do a good job you’ll probably retire in your 60’s. I am in my late 70’s and still love what I do. I still get up and enjoy going to work every day.

My late husband said to my sister (a professor in pediatrics) and I “Do you two know how lucky you are? You’re so lucky in your careers because you love what you do.” There aren’t many people whose job or career is satisfying enough to say that about.