October 15, 2015

Radiology’s Block relishes clinical, operational roles

Jake Block, M.D., associate professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, is one of those people who likes to stay busy.

Jake Block, M.D., has key clinical and operational responsibilities for Vanderbilt’s Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences. (photo by John Russell)

Jake Block, M.D., associate professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, is one of those people who likes to stay busy.

That trait, along with seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm, serves him well in his various clinical and administrative leadership roles helping to further Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s diagnostic imaging mission.

On the clinical side, Block is chief of the Section of Musculoskeletal and Emergency Radiology, leading a team of radiologists located within Vanderbilt University Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED). Within this group are five musculoskeletal radiologists and three dedicated ‘nighthawks’ who, combined, provide imaging coverage 24 hours a day for Vanderbilt’s hospitals and clinics.

“Our reading room is a very busy place. We’re centered within the ED, so there’s inherent energy there,” Block said. “We have a fantastic group of musculoskeletal radiologists, and it’s very satisfying working with those folks and our friends in Emergency Medicine, Trauma and Orthopaedics.”

In addition to quickly and accurately assessing diagnostic images, Block and his colleagues also perform joint-related procedures, image-guided biopsies and even thermal ablations of benign and malignant neoplasms.

“So, in musculoskeletal imaging, that’s a broad cross-section of patients that we have the opportunity to positively impact, which is very rewarding,” Block said. “Of course, on top of that we devote a significant amount of time and energy to teaching medical students, residents, fellows and other Vanderbilt practitioners with regards to musculoskeletal radiology.”

On the administrative side, Block serves as vice chair of Clinical Operations for the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, where he helps guide, grow and improve how imaging services are provided across the Vanderbilt system.

He’s held the role since 2006, and in that time he’s seen an evolution in what drives successful radiology operations.

“We’re emerging from an era where tremendous focus was placed on improving the efficiency of radiology and moving into an era where operational management, and what I do, reaches beyond simple metrics of efficiency,” Block said.

“Focus is now transitioning toward answering the question, “how can we add value to the health care system and the patient population we serve?”

According to Block this involves everything from creating decision support models that appropriately manage utilization of resources in an acceptable manner to developing thoughtful and consistent recommendations about the need, or lack of need, for follow up studies to devising reports that are clear and understandable for both referring physicians and patients, who are increasingly interacting with their health information through the MyHealth at Vanderbilt portal.

For Block, these clinical and administrative roles are complementary, like two sides of a coin.

“They overlap, greatly. If I didn’t have the clinical involvement I think my abilities in operational management would be less effective. They feed into each other and help keep things moving in a positive direction,” Block said.

“I really enjoy being on the true clinical side and interacting with great colleagues and mentors. And knowing that I’m also contributing to the overall growth of the enterprise in this operational role is extremely satisfying.

“There’s a sense that, through learning about a system and inserting a little energy you can hopefully improve the overall functionality.”

Born and raised in Norman, Oklahoma, Block attended the University of Oklahoma and received his M.D. from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. He came to Vanderbilt in 1995 for his residency, stayed for his fellowship and joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2001.

A year after he arrived at Vanderbilt he met his wife, Melanie, who was working here as an occupational therapist at the time. The couple has two sons — Owen, 10, and Wyatt, 7.

Jake Block, M.D., spends some of his free time working on his 1967 Sunbeam Alpine.

“So I have Vanderbilt to thank for not only an exciting professional career, but also for my exceptional wife and family. Both of my kids were born here, so I guess I’m in pretty deep,” Block said.

In his spare time Block helps coach his sons’ little league teams, does a little cooking, photography and woodworking and is restoring a 1960s British roadster. “I spend more time under it than I do driving it,” Block said.

He and Melanie are also renovating their older home not far from campus, with the couple doing much of the work themselves, everything from tearing down walls to installing tile.

“It’s been nice to watch it come into focus and it’s something that we’re really proud of,” Block said.

Between his roles and responsibilities at Vanderbilt and at home, Block has no problem staying busy and has what he calls an advantage when it comes to time management.

“Well, I don’t have to shampoo in the morning, so that saves a little time,” Block said with a chuckle.