September 13, 2021

Paying It Forward With Trainee-Led Radiology Outreach

By Ryan W. England, MD, PGY-5 Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology Resident, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD

“Volunteer.” “Give back.” “Pay it forward.”

As members of the medical community, we often hear these calls to action (whether overtly or subconsciously). But we don’t know where to start. Or perhaps, we think we’re too inexperienced to do any good. I remember thinking to myself years ago, “I can’t possibly help in a clinic; I’m just a medical student.” Or “I don’t speak another language; I can’t volunteer in global health.” But I was wrong, of course.

I’ve learned that the various skills we’ve gained over the years, whatever they may be, can be incredibly useful in ways we might not have predicted. For instance, in college I was on the Varsity Offshore Sailing Team at The United States Naval Academy.

While looking for volunteer opportunities as a post-bac premedical student, I was surprised but thrilled when I came across the Downtown Sailing Center in Baltimore, a nonprofit organization that provides disabled youth the opportunity to sail on the water in specially-made access dinghies. It was a perfect match for me, but not one I would have anticipated.

These lessons can also translate into radiology outreach. By the time I was a fourth-year medical student, I had gained a solid foundation of knowledge that made me a valuable member of a radiology outreach mission to Cape Verde with RAD-AID International. Afterward, skills from my past once again translated into an unexpected volunteer opportunity. The CEO of RAD-AID saw in my resume that I was a pilot in the Navy and asked if I would help manage the new medical airship program aimed at providing medical imaging to remote populations with decreased access to care and poor infrastructure. I jumped at the opportunity, and my role at RAD-AID has only continued to grow.

RAD-AID volunteers meeting with hospital leadership in Cape Verde.
RAD-AID volunteers meeting with hospital leadership in Cape Verde.

Rendering of the RAD-AID medical hybrid airship
Rendering of the RAD-AID medical hybrid airship.

Regardless of your background and skills, opportunities exist for radiology outreach[1], and they could present as international missions or local domestic projects. For example, a medical student with a background in computer science may enjoy travelling to Ghana to help install a PACS system at a disadvantaged hospital. A resident who’s interested in medical education could join the team providing simulation training to interventional radiology residents in Vietnam. Or if that same resident is unable to travel, they could help lead the effort to provide radiology lectures remotely to residents in Liberia. Finally, a breast imaging fellow could volunteer with a women’s mobile health clinic, providing mammograms to women in the Washington, DC, area. Radiology outreach can be achieved through various nonprofit organizations (such as RAD-AID International), or they could be through trainee-led initiatives at your own institution (for example, Road2IR).

Getting involved in radiology outreach is incredibly rewarding both personally and professionally, but can also be very intimidating early on. By having confidence in your own abilities — and saying “yes” when given the opportunity — you’ll find yourself on the road to success. And like me, you never know where that path will lead.

1. England, R.W., Lugossy, A.M. and Mollura, D.J. “Increasing Opportunities for Trainees to Engage in Global Health Radiology: Radiology In Training.” Radiology, August 2021: 300(2):E320-E322. Available at: Epub 2021 Jun 15. PMID: 34128726.