Barry Siegel, MD is professor of radiology and chief of the Division of Nuclear Medicine (Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology). Dr. Siegel specializes in nuclear medicine, PET (positron emission tomography), radionuclide imaging and radiodine treatment.
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Dr. Siegel, what happened in the course of schooling to make you choose your specialty?
It was a chance meeting of one individual that got me turned on to nuclear medicine. At the end of the sophomore year of medical school, we had to select a six-week elective. I wanted to do something clinical, and I and a friend went to see the cardiac radiologist, Larry Elliot, to enroll in his elective, but we were too late; the spots had already been filled. Dr. Elliot suggested we see the new head of nuclear medicine, Dr. Jim Potchen and he was delighted to have some students. Not only did he plug us into the clinic but he also arranged for us to perform a laboratory project that led to a publication in the Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine. From then on I was hooked on radiology and nuclear medicine.
What brought you to Washington University?
I have been here since 1962. I came as an undergraduate student. I grew up in Chicago and wanted to go to a school outside of the Chicago area. My neighbor was attending Washington University, and she suggested I visit. I came to Washington University with my parents for a weekend,thought it was a great school, applied, got accepted, and said ‘okay’ I’ll go to this school, and it has been a great decision because I’ve been happy here for over 40 years.
Which aspect of your practice is most interesting?
Nuclear medicine has been a very dynamic and changing specialty. Watching nuclear medicine evolve and participating in its evolution has been very interesting. Another interesting aspect of my job is having the opportunity to work with many great colleagues and being able to collaborate with many great scientists at the medical school. For example, Dr. Perry Grisby and I have collaborated over the past eight years in studying the use of PET in cervical cancer. Our work has contributed to Medicare’s recent decision to pay for PET in cervical cancer.
Where do you see Nuclear Medicine twenty years from now?
My vision is probably not one that would make a lot of nuclear medicine people happy, but, I frankly see nuclear medicine fading into diagnostic radiology as a radiology subspecialty. I think it is the only way it is going to be able to survive. The marriage of the functional data from the nuclear medicine side and anatomic data from the radiology side – PET/CT and SPECT/CT – is necessitating fundamental training as a radiologist before subspecialization in nuclear radiology or molecular imaging. I think nuclear medicine will thrive in that model because of the power of working with tracers at the nanomolar and picomolar level which is way lower than can be assessed with MRI or CT.
Nuclear medicine techniques come and go over the years. Change has been one of the fun things about my job. The character of the practice has changed a half a dozen times over the course of the 30+ years I have been in practice. What I did when I started is totally different than what I do now. The types of patients we see and the types of diagnostic testing we perform are completely different.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Nashville, Tennessee because my father was stationed there at an Air Force base but I grew up in Chicago. I moved to St. Louis when I was seventeen and have been here ever since.
Which particular award or achievement is the most gratifying to you?
The Georg Charles de Hevesy Nuclear Pioneer Award. The award is for being a PET pioneer. The award was in recognition, not of a specific single achievement, but for being one of a small number of individuals who decided to take the gamble that PET was ready to become a clinical tool and that it was no longer just a fancy research tool for physiology and biochemistry research.
In the beginning, we did not get paid for most of the studies we performed, but we did them anyway because we believed they would contribute to the care of patients. We also wanted to prove that PET was indeed useful clinically. Over time PET has become an important clinical tool.
What do you do when you are not working?
I work. I am one of those people who likes to work seven days a week. I like to travel too. Most of my travel is work related but there is some down time. My wife and I both like to travel. One of my favorite places is Paris, but we did recently go to Buenos Aires and will be traveling to Thailand soon.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
My father was in the lumber business in Chicago and I spent a lot of time working with him. He said the lumber business was good, but he told me to go into a profession involving science because he thought I would find it more interesting.
One other piece of advice I received from several mentors early in my career was not to become only a nuclear medicine doctor but to be a radiologist too. Putting those two specialties together was very important for my academic career.
What lifestyle change could most benefit our health?
Slowing down. Currently in the United States, definite health benefit could be achieved by throwing away the cigarettes, learning to control what we eat, and exercising more.
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