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In Focus: Tobias Gilk

 

Tobias Gilk, M.Arch, MRSO, MRSE, is a senior vice president at RADIOLOGY-Planning (RAD-Planning), but he may be best known as a design specialist and MRI safety guru. It was his study of “design” that led him to the realm of imaging. One thing led to another and he soon found he had become an expert on MRI safety.

He explains that a “long series of left-hand turns” – like those made by NASCAR drivers – are what his career path resembles.

“Through a long series of left-hand turns … seriously! I applied to get my master’s in architecture with the intention of becoming a designer of live theater buildings,” Gilk recalls when asked how he entered the imaging field. “I suppose I should have looked at the job prospects for theater designers before starting architectural school, but once I was there I realized that this was a very unlikely career path. After I graduated with my master’s in architecture I was resigned to be a ‘regular’ architect, and the summer I started with my first firm I was essentially ‘gifted’ to the local hospital to be their resident architect from our firm.”

“Quickly I became the hospital’s go-to radiology designer, and designed MRI, CT, and gamma camera suites. Through that, I fell in love with radiology and – in particular – MRI,” he adds.

“In 2002, I was designing another MRI suite when the original ACR white paper on MRI safety came out, and the hospital directed me to incorporate the physical safety requirements,” Gilk continues. “This was the beginning of me falling down the rabbit-hole of MRI safety, and that project led me to a deep interest in MRI safety.” 

When asked about his greatest accomplishment, Gilk paused to think before answering.

“This is hard to think of when I regularly think of what more I want to accomplish, but there are several things I am very proud of. I’m deeply proud of the building of RAD-Planning … a specialty firm that does the work that I love most,” he says. “I’m also very proud of having helped in the development of planning and design standards for radiology facilities, including for FGI, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense and best practices for facility MRI safety design for the American College of Radiology. And I’m also deeply proud of having helped to found the American Board of MR Safety and furthering MRI safety knowledge and practice.”

He was reluctant to name a mentor, instead insisting that many people have helped him throughout his career.

“There are so many people who have helped me, I’m a bit skeptical answering because I know that I’d inadvertently leave people off. But in the spirit of the question, I’ll identify a couple of key mentors. For my architectural professional career, my boss/partner, Rob Junk, has taught me so much about both design and the practicalities of being an architect. I’m forever in his debt for that,” Gilk says. “For my radiology focus, I owe a similar debt of gratitude to Dr. Emanuel Kanal who has been a friend and collaborator on many MRI safety efforts. I’ve been wrestling with the question of mentoring others. I’ve worked myself into a fairly narrow niche and I’m still looking for individual(s) who have a similar interest.” 

His leadership style is one with a keen focus on working with like-minded individuals.

“I have the luxury in my line of work of focusing on widely shared values … making spaces that provide high-quality, safe and efficient care. I find that clearly identifying shared values and common goals at the beginning of a project helps to minimize friction. Of course, tough decisions always need to be made, but when those decisions are clear in the context of the shared values and goals, they become less painful,” Gilk explains. “My leadership approach is primarily about cultivating a team with a shared vision that is central to everything we do.”

Looking into a crystal ball, Gilk sees more change on the horizon for diagnostic imaging. He predicts the usual pros and cons of new technology will exist in the future.

“The current labor shortage in imaging is likely to trigger some significant shifts that will be long-lasting. We’re seeing the big OEMs starting to market remote scanning capabilities. Continuous acceleration of imaging hardware means more potential for volume/throughput, which will put many hospitals in conflict with hospital designs laid out decades ago,” Gilk explains. “Consider the patient preparation infrastructure difference for a 60-minute MRI exam and if the newest MRI scanner can do many patients in 15-minutes? We’ve focused massive attention on accelerating hardware, but not similar attention to accelerating our buildings, staff and operational models. I imagine the next 5 years or so will bring both great pain and innovation in imaging management.”

When asked why he loves his job, Gilk replies, “How could I not? I get to do work that allows me to exercise both my brain and creativity and improve the quality of care that patients receive as well as improve the safety of patients and caregivers.”

Away from work, he is an extremely proud father, a husband and pet owner.

“I’m married and we have an amazing daughter who is finishing her undergrad … plus two cats and a dog that we dote on,” Gilk says. 

 

In Focus Nomination

  • The In Focus feature shines a spotlight on radiology and imaging directors from throughout the nation. We share information about their education and career with the readers of ICE. The article serves as a look at leaders who are making a positive impact and who serve as role models and mentors in the field.
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