Family Tradition Built Medical Student’s Desire to Become Radiologist

Family Tradition Built Medical Student’s Desire to Become Radiologist

Now in her fourth year of medical school, Rylee Friel has wanted to be a radiologist since she was a child. Her mother, Shelly, is a nurse, and Rylee has long focused on entering medicine.

Her father, Thomas, also had a big influence. He’s not a physician, but he plays an important role in an annual event that’s attended by more than 40,000 medical professionals and vendors. Part of the local decorators’ union in Chicago, Thomas is one of seven members of the Friel family who have worked at McCormick Place. They’re the crew that, among many other duties, builds and takes down the huge booths at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Conference.

“All my life, I have heard my dad, grandfather, and uncles talking about setting up for RSNA,” Rylee said. “They were talking about the new technologies they see each year and people from all over the world coming to McCormick Place for the show.”

Thomas and his crew, which includes his son, two brothers, and a cousin, routinely put in 12-hour plus days for weeks leading up to the event. They then jump back into action taking everything down after the conference wraps.

Rylee Friel, right, has known about the annual RSNA Conference in Chicago for years because her dad, Thomas, works the event.
Rylee Friel, right, has known about the annual RSNA Conference in Chicago for years because her dad, Thomas, works the event.

“It’s basically like building a small town/city in about two weeks,” he said. “There is a lot of planning and preparation that goes into it even before any physical object gets set up. We have to map out where all the signs are going to be hanging and where each vendor booth is going to be placed and how big they all are. RSNA has a lot of hanging signs, too, a lot more than some of the other shows we do. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of workers who come together to bring you what you see. We are always there too during the show, doing whatever RSNA needs us to do.”

Rylee has been a registered attendee at the conference for the past three years. When she walks around the vast expanse of McCormick Place during the event, she finds herself thinking about the work required to make everything happen.

“I feel like I may have a deeper appreciation than some others may have, knowing the show didn’t just pop up on its own,” she said. “It takes many people to put it all together, and I have seen the work it takes to do it.”

Rylee’s early introduction to radiology through RSNA put her in a unique position to already know about the field before attending medical school. At the Indiana University School of Medicine, which she attends, most students aren’t exposed to radiology until at least their third year during core clerkships. Rylee was paired with a career mentor in radiology during her first year because of her interest in the field.

“I knew I wanted to be a radiologist,” she said. “I was lucky enough to know what I wanted early on because there are many students who do not find radiology until later in their medical school careers.”

The program requires a radiology clerkship, which usually takes place in the fourth year of medical school. By that time, most students have already chosen their specialty. 

“I’m a big advocate for pushing for earlier exposure to radiology,” she said. “It’s a great field, and I believe we need more women and underrepresented minorities in it. Without that early exposure to radiology, the specialty will continue to face challenges in recruiting and retaining members of these populations.”

Rylee also is involved in numerous RSNA leadership positions. She’s the chair for the medical student task force’s communications, DEI, and wellness subcommittee, editor of The Pulse medical student newsletter, and the medical student representative for the resident and fellows committee.

Rylee said she owes her success to her family.

“Family is everything,” she said. “Without their support, I would not be where I am today.”

RSNA recognizes medical student task force committee members by featuring them on placards at McCormick Place during the conference. Thomas was one of the people who placed those signs for the event, a moment of pride for him and the Friel family.

“All the signs for the show come through us, and we unbox them and set them up. It’s so surreal seeing my daughter’s name up there,” he said. “I’ve been doing this show most of my life, and I just think it’s the coolest thing that my daughter is a part of it now on these committees and will continue to be for years to come. We’re all so proud of her and are excited for her to be a radiologist.”

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