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2010 Gold Medalist - Dr. Leonard Swischuk



Leonard E. Swischuk, MD, FACR, of Ukrainian/Polish heritage, was born in Canada. His parents immigrated to North America in the early 1900’s, and Dr. Swischuk thinks that the best thing he learned from them was how to survive, to be honest, and discipline, when necessary. 

Dr. Swischuk grew up in a mountainous coal mining town in Southern Alberta, Canada. The mountains have a certain ethereal effect that makes one think of who he is and where he is going. Growing up, Dr. Swischuk played sports, such as softball and ground hockey, and he worked in his parents' grocery store, but the mountains were always there to test his self existence.

Due to certain economic conditions, his family later moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Going to a big city from a small community was a major social shift, but Dr. Swischuk took it in stride and pushed on. 

He worked at many associate jobs within his parents' and uncle's business ventures, including a grocery store; a service station (pumping gas the old way); a motel, requiring him to change beds, polish brass and clean toilets; and also delivering flyers and items for a major department store. All of this was very important because it taught Dr. Swischuk how to serve others, to live simply, and that every job in life, no matter how menial, is important. To this end, he always told his boys that in life, "Sooner or later you will have to dig a ditch; just make sure it is the straightest ditch ever seen."

While simultaneously working in the department store and attending medical school, Dr. Swischuk met the most important person of his life--a young girl not quite eighteen years old, who also worked at the department store. Her name was Janie, and she was of English/Irish/Scottish descent.

To this day, Dr. Swischuk believes he would not have been able to accomplish everything in his life without "his Janie” at his side. Without going into details of how their orbits intertwined, their destiny together seemed inevitable. Actually, this young girl saw Leonard on the same bus that she took to work in the summers some two years prior to their dating. Together they had four sons: Tim, Jim, Mike and Peter, two interventional radiologists, and two architects (one of these also became a culinary chef). 

All of this is somewhat relevant because we as radiologists are artists. We look at images and at the edges and use our templates to decide if the image is normal or abnormal. Radiologists deal with shades of gray; not absolute colors. Shades of gray are life, and we are very good at evaluating shades of gray.

Now back to Dr. Swischuk and Janie. They realized that in life and in marriage there would always be two directions which were intertwined, but there had to be a single goal. Their goal was to bring up the children so that they would not be a burden for society. The template was set: a common goal, two participants, but only one driver at one time. This was not to say that this constellation would never change, but at that time in life it was important to adhere to it.

Very clearly, Dr. Swischuk’s responsibility was bringing home the food and protecting the family. Janie’s responsibility was looking after the children and keeping them out of harm's way. These were not 100% roles, for there had to be some intertwining. Dr. Swischuk has always said that the best father is 3/4 father and 1/4 mother, and the best mother is 3/4 mother and 1/4 father. (He also has said that flexibility and tap dancing are the keys to survival.)

In 1963, the Swischuks moved to Oklahoma City, where Dr. Swischuk completed a residency in diagnostic radiology. Afterwards, the family moved to Galveston, Texas, so that he could pursue his career. The result is well known and there is no point in reiterating Dr. Swischuk's career path. However, he genuinely believes that it would not have happened had he not moved to Galveston, in the state of Texas, the most free flying, conscientious state in the USA!

So now here we are. Dr. Swischuk has received the Gold Medal from the American Society of Emergency Radiology. He loves the ASER because it deals with the basic problems of medicine and imaging. This society has not been whiplashed, nor degraded, by modern imaging. Initial evaluation of a patient’s problem consists of an adequate history, a good physical examination, and then imaging. In many cases imaging still starts with plain films--let’s not forget the plain film. Many want to forget it because it takes a little bit of an artist to evaluate plain film.

Dr. Swischuk’s career has allowed him to travel the world, and Janie has always been a great travel guide by his side. Together they have been able to see the world from a wide perspective but have both come to the same conclusion, that all people are the same: all people want their families to be safe.

Dr. Swischuk is very honored to have received the ASER Gold Medal. It has been his ongoing objective to work for and with the Society for as long as he can.


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