The ACR International Outreach Fund supports radiological projects in low- to middle-income countries around the world.
In 1997, Apple's powerful “Think Different” commercial concluded with this memorable line: “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Since 2004, the ACR Foundation International Outreach Committee has been working diligently to help make a difference by improving radiological care in developing nations and promoting member participation in international service.
When it comes to changing the world, here’s just one example of the committee in action. After a 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti in January 2010, a team of ACR volunteers embarked on the first of what would turn out to be many missions to the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. In March 2011, the delegation arrived in the capital of Port-au-Prince — just 16 miles from the quake’s epicenter — on a fact-finding trip to determine how the ACR could help.
“The first time we went to Haiti, seeing the impact of the earthquake was a visceral experience,” says James P. Borgstede, MD, FACR, the International Outreach Committee’s first chair.
Seizing the Opportunity
The team also toured the partially collapsed, but still functioning, University Hospital and was stunned not only by the destruction, but to learn of the country’s lack of radiological caregivers and resources. Brad Short, ACR senior director of member services and staff leader for the College’s Haiti outreach program, says, “Beyond seeing the earthquake devastation, we learned there were only 19 radiologists serving some 10.5 million Haitian people. There was no radiology residency program in the country at all and only a few functioning CT scanners, one in a private practice clinic and a recent donation in a small hospital in Port-au-Prince. The needs were great.”
Three goals came out of the Haiti project. One was to help upgrade Grace Children’s Hospital with more modern imaging equipment. The ACR Foundation donated a Siemens portable hybrid x-ray unit to be used in the hospital’s temporary quarters. Second was to advise University Hospital leaders as they moved forward with tearing down the old hospital and constructing a new one with advanced technology, including a CT scanner and PACS. That process is now underway.
A third goal was to help the University Hospital get its dormant radiology residency program up and running again. The program relaunched in early 2014, with 16 soon-to-be radiologists joining the three-year training program. In 2015, the ACR team began focusing its educational efforts in Haiti largely on training radiology residents, especially in using imaging technology.
Making a Difference
Short recalls that on the first mission to Haiti, Charles R. Phelps II, MD, a longtime volunteer at Grace Children’s Hospital, grabbed his shoulder and said, “Brad, I want you to know that once you get into Haiti, Haiti gets into you.”
“Between 2012 and 2014, ACR volunteer teams held three training conferences, called Radiology Education Days, to teach physicians, radiologists, and potential radiographers from across the country,” says Douglas (Rusty) L. Brown, MD, radiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and current chair of the ACR Foundation International Outreach Committee. “We brought 10 to 12 faculty members and presented two days of training about various radiological topics to between 100 and 150 participants.” The ACR Foundation also provided hands-on training with portable ultrasound devices generously loaned by SonoSite and GE.
According to Short, the Haitian medical community welcomed the sessions enthusiastically. “We had physicians make a six-hour drive from the mountains in northern Haiti to Port-au-Prince,” he says. “They left their villages at 11:00 at night to make sure they got a seat in the front row. The next day, they would do it all over again — and some even slept in their cars. They showed up on day two as energetic and eager as can be. It was a powerful experience.”
Borgstede echoes that emotion, “In radiology, we have incredible opportunities to enhance patients’ diagnostic care around the world. We have a responsibility to share our knowledge and our resources with the developing world. Beyond that, it’s a hands-on opportunity to directly influence the care that’s happening in low- to middle-income countries and places that have experienced emergencies like the Haiti earthquake. It is a tremendously fulfilling opportunity.”
Beyond funding programs like the one in Haiti, donations to the International Outreach Fund also support the Goldberg-Reeder Travel Grant program, which annually provides up to four radiology residents a travel grant to support a radiology program in a developing country. In 2015, the ACR Foundation also established the Ghesani-Kajani East Africa Radiology Scholarship, which awards a $4,000 grant to qualified radiology residents seeking to spend at least one month providing health care at Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The International Outreach Fund also works with facilities around the world to identify and coordinate volunteer, teaching, and donation opportunities in low- to middle-income countries. And Brown encourages all radiologists to participate. “We’re all part of the bigger world,” he says. “When you travel to developing countries and see the basic level of medical care they have, you realize how fortunate we are in this country. As radiologists, we have to step up and provide whatever help we can to others around the world.”
By Linda Sowers, freelance writer for ACR Press