Dr. Heather Tauschek is a general radiologist, breast imager, and current medical director of Providence Imaging Center in Alaska.
Sherlock Holmes intimidates me with his penetrating gaze and ability to reason 1000 possibilities in a second, with severe objectivity, while Dr. Watson’s down to earth wisdom and humor make me feel more normal. His compassion balances out Holmes’ intensity.
As a fan of the great detective, I endeavored to exercise some journalistic sleuthing to reveal a bit about Providence Imaging Center’s current medical director. While this portrait may be hastily sketched by an amateur, my hope is that it will serve to introduce the passionate and compassionate clinician who is Dr. Heather Tauschek.
Dr. Heather Tauschek brings the same rigor to every image that she interprets, and strives to be ever mindful that it represents a real person who may be gravely ill or injured, or anxious about a screening test result. If Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson were real and alive today (in one person), I think they might be a kindred spirit to Dr. Tauschek. They used powers of observation to discern much from lingering clues and behaviors, while she delves into the world of pixels, clinical data and regions of interest to ferret out facts about a patient’s health.
"The Game is Afoot (or a knee, or a spleen, or an artery)"
Once Holmes encountered a crime, his rallying cry to Watson was often “the game is afoot”. I suspect that Dr. Tauschek approaches each image she interprets with the same excitement and determination. Her main cap is that of working general radiologist for Alaska Radiology Associates. Translation: You’ll find her at one of six physical locations, reading studies from one of three imaging facilities, either during daylight hours or on call. She is also a wife and mother, artist, avid hiker and medical director for Providence Imaging Center.
This week she is sitting in our Anchorage location, in a dark room with large glowing screens detailing the anatomy of patients. Her job while here consists of interpreting all the fluoroscopy and stat x-ray exams performed on site, as well as the breast imaging performed at Providence facilities in Anchorage (well over 100 exams, many with comparison studies). In-between interruptions from people like me, she performs ultrasound- and stereotactically guided biopsies, needle localizations and ductograms, and the occasional sonogram of an infant’s hip. Then there are conversations with technologists about more specific images, calls on urgent results to providers, and setting patients at ease who came in from out of town to have an area of concern worked up. All this from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
What prepares someone for this kind of focus and workload? And could it ever be considered fun? According to Dr. Tauschek, it started with innate curiosity and an urge to share interesting things as a child. An object laying flat in her open hand would be thrust forward toward a listening adult with the exclamation “See?” However, the adult would hear it as “Squeek?”, and that led to her nickname and a lifetime of discovery. Growing up in Anchorage with a creative and hard-working family provided a beautiful setting to make numerous exciting discoveries.
“Squeek” was the one introduced to the Third World during two teenage mission trips where she labored on a hurricane shelter in Fiji, and an orphanage in India. “I went from a relatively sheltered Alaskan kid to someone who saw how drastically different the world could be. From seeing lepers who were missing thumbs or noses or hands, to the beautiful dignity of a woman who took pride in her one room hut covered in palm fronds—these experiences opened me up to the concept of altruism, and medicine seemed a natural fit,” said Tauschek.
Narrowing the Call
Which specific path would she choose in the wide open field of medicine? Surgery was an initial consideration, but she discovered that the operating room environment was not to her liking. Inspiration was found to study internal medicine when she encountered two geriatricians who worked tirelessly to help their patients, even making house calls in New York City.
The Match changed all that. Every medical student has to choose a residency program by their fourth year, and it was time for her to apply. The first step was an essay application that started “I love Internal Medicine because….” And the words wouldn’t come. This student who enjoyed putting words on paper simply couldn’t pen a single sentence to answer the question. Thankfully, a classmate’s boyfriend suggested something that better fit her talents and skill set. Flash forward some months, and the mandatory “Match” application was completed in thirty minutes with just one minor re-write. “I love Diagnostic Radiology!” led to the birth of a Radiologist.
Her time at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College in New York City was not wasted: She won the American Medical Women’s Association Glasgow-Rubin Achievement Award for graduating top of her medical school class. A love of art competed for her attention as well, which led to a solo show in Manhattan. Her fourth year completed, it was off to residency at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University in St Louis for five years of specialty training in radiology. The adventurer and avid student was now married to her best friend John, whom she’d met back in college in Seattle, before finishing her undergrad work. The warning Dr. Tauschek might issue to anyone who wants to remain unmarried: don’t get together with nerdy friends on Fridays to make soup and discuss books (at least not in Seattle).
Dr. Tauschek enjoys painting watercolors when there is time.
The Compass Needle Swings: Time to Find Her Own 221B Baker Street
Dr. Tauschek’s compass was pointing a new direction, and that direction led back north and west. When brown winters in Missouri at Mallinckrodt made her pine for snowy white Alaskan ones, it was time to get back to her true north. She had signed up for specialty fellowship training in breast imaging when the perfect opportunity arose: Alaska Radiology Associates needed a new partner to share their growing workload. After completing a breast imaging fellowship, Dr. Tauschek arrived in Anchorage with her family in 2010. The Big Apple gave her the seeds she needed to grow into a radiologist, and they were ready for planting in the great Northwest.
Alaska Radiology Associates was happy as well. According to Dr. Denise Farleigh, leading breast imager and partner with Providence Imaging Center: “Heather works hard, maintains good relationships with clinicians, is respectful to clinical and clerical staff members, and provides excellent patient care. I could go on and on.......it would be hard to adequately express how grateful I am to have her as a valued colleague and friend.”
Heather and her family enjoy hiking in Wrangell St. Elias
Keeping the Job Fun
How is this artist/detective doing today? “Staying current in the field, pursuing the constantly evolving knowledge required to do this job well, and the thrill of the search keep my job fun,” shared Dr. Tauschek. And finding out what is going on inside patients sometimes feels like finding Waldo in a crowd of striped shirt wearers. “The way providers can make our job easier is to give us very specific clinical information,” according to Heather. “Any member of our radiologist group is happy to help pinpoint the best imaging study to order.”
These pulmonary nodules resolved as sequins upon closer look by Alaska Radiology Associates radiologist Heather Tauschek.
'It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.' Sherlock Holmes in A Case of Identity
Dr. Tauschek would agree with the Master Sleuth that details matter when it comes to interpreting a complex case. A recent example will illustrate the point. A pediatric chest x-ray from the Emergency Room revealed apparent calcified pulmonary nodules, an unusual diagnosis in a pediatric patient. She followed with a call to the technologist who confessed the patient was wearing a pink t-shirt, not a hospital gown, during the x-ray. Dr. Tauschek requested an x-ray of the shirt (in order to minimize the child’s radiation exposure), and the pulmonary nodules became something else entirely.
A spyglass pointed to the future
After reading about the exploits of the Great British detective, one notices that he savors the companionship of Dr. Watson, whose down to earth nature grounds Sherlock time and again. Dr. Tauschek shares a vision for balance and partnership with our magnifying glass wielding friend. “Imaging excellence and stellar customer service is a well-choreographed dance that requires two things: safe acquisition of the best quality images, and providing the most relevant interpretations—all while providing outstanding service to each customer, from patients to physicians,” shares our medical director.
Does she think our clerical workers and technologists have what it takes to schedule appropriate exams and generate useful images? “Providence Imaging Center has fabulous staff,” she says, her steady gaze full of reassurance. “Their kindness, humor, and the quality of care they provide for our patients make me love coming to work every day.”
An answer like that removes any mystery about PIC’s destiny: We’re sure to help many more customers in the future. If you have a perplexing case that requires the assistance of someone who likes to delve below the pixels, give us a call: The door to 221B Baker Street is open for business.