Around the World

This year's Goldberg-Reeder Travel Grant recipient headed to Botswana to treat patients and teach hospital staff.

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January 2016

Unsafe water, malnutrition, malaria, air pollution, road traffic injuries, poor access to health care — these are just a few of the health issues residents face in developing countries. Each year, the ACR Foundation funds volunteer radiologists traveling to underserved nations through the Goldberg-Reeder Travel Grant.

This year, one of the grants went to Sahil Mehta, MD, a vascular and interventional radiology fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital. Upon winning the award, Mehta was serving as a radiology resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and had the opportunity to travel to Scottish Livingston Hospital in Molepolole, Botswana, where he trained medical staff how to better perform imaging services. The Bulletin interviewed Mehta about imaging in Botswana and how to support sustainable health care in the developing world.

Q: What did you learn during your trip?

A: The physicians at the hospital, particularly those who were from the BIDMC program and other U.S. hospitals rotating through, were extremely invested in their patients and the care provided. But they lacked the resources we have in the U.S. I questioned how useful I could be in this setting before even taking off for the trip. But the biggest takeaway message was, no matter how limited the resources, you can always help in underserved medical settings. Botswana doesn’t have a lot of imaging facilities, but even a simple ultrasound machine helps tremendously. And teaching local staff to use and interpret ultrasound imaging can help establish practices that will help patients for years to come.

Q: Did you come across any challenges?

A: Working in a developing nation is obviously not the same as working at Harvard Hospital. Simple things like ultrasound jelly were not available. There was no running water in the hospital on most floors and no working electrical outlets in many patient rooms. These are big challenges when you’re trying to provide any type of care for patients.

Q: What results did you see by the end of your trip?

A: It was very obvious how desperately the hospital needed somebody who could provide new skillsets. Despite having the ability to refer patients for an MRI or CT scan at another hospital a few hours away, the Scottish Livingston Hospital had no radiologists to interpret the images. The hospital did have ultrasound equipment, but no physician who could interpret the results. In an effort to help the staff in Botswana, we had set up a small teleradiology program that allowed the staff to send images to the U.S. for input and education.

Through the Goldberg-Reeder grant, I was able to go to Scottish Livingston Hospital, refine the teleradiology program, and teach radiology to the physicians and students in Botswana. As soon as I got there, people all over the hospital were asking for my help with interpreting images, determining diagnoses, ordering the right imaging tests, and coming up with creative ways to get answers with only an ultrasound. It was very obvious right away that a radiologist could help a lot of people, both in terms of education and patient care.

Q: What was the most memorable part of your experience?

A: The best part was how receptive all the physicians were to the teaching. It was gratifying to be able to help and to be asked for my input on patient care. That was definitely the most memorable part: being at the forefront of care for every patient in the hospital.

Q: How will your experience in Botswana impact your practice in the future?

A: I’m now prepared to be resourceful whenever a situation is encountered with limited supplies, abilities, or resources. As an interventional radiologist, my goal is to always see every patient either on the floor or in the clinic before a procedure is performed and to write a detailed report for the consult and the procedure. Being in Botswana was just another reminder of how important that is.

You can see more photos from Mehta's travels below. Click on the image to enlarge.

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