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Volunteering: Good for the Community, Good for Radiology


A growing trend toward volunteerism brings radiologists closer to communities.

When Arun Krishnaraj, MD, accepted a new job in Charlottesville, Va., in July, he not only wanted to acquaint himself with his new colleagues, but also with service opportunities within his new community.

Since becoming the newest chief of the body imaging division for University of Virginia Health System’s radiology and medical imaging department, Krishnaraj has been contemplating just how he can launch a program where radiologists volunteer as a team within the community.

“To me, it is part of being a physician that you are part of your community and you have a unique aspect to giving back,” he said.

Krishnaraj is among a group of radiologists who are vocal in persuading their colleagues to think about stepping out of their reading rooms and volunteering their time to any number of causes.

“This is about making sure that radiologists have a greater purpose as physicians and are plugged into their communities,” Krishnaraj said.

Plugging into volunteerism is something that Richard Gunderman, MD, has devoted a lot of time to thinking about, doing, and encouraging others to do.

“Most people harbor inside a real need to contribute something, not to just contribute things we pay for, but to contribute something because we think it is going to make a real difference in a patient’s, colleague’s, or neighbor’s life,” said Gunderman, a professor of philanthropy and vice chair of radiology at the University of Indiana.

“A lot of us are worried,” he said. “Our incomes are stagnated or declining. And that puts us in a deficit or scarcity mentality. We are having to make do with less. Woe is me. The answer to that is, perhaps, radiologists’ incomes aren’t going up as fast or are even declining, but there aren’t too many starving radiologists. We’re still doing pretty well, and if we could still find some time to give of ourselves it might help to put it in perspective.”

As radiologists within the field push to encourage broader programs to recognize and promote volunteers within the profession, some have sought to emphasize it as a vital part of the field.

When University of Washington Medicine assistant professor of radiology and breast imaging fellowship director Christoph Lee, MD, and his co-authors proposed a way to define and measure citizenship within the field, volunteering was included among the activities that currently go unrecognized but serve to bolster not only the people being served but the profession, as well.

Writing in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, Lee and his colleagues suggested that activities outside of directly interpreting images are important to securing the future of the profession. Volunteering on local boards, political involvement, participating in Rotary or religious organizations, mentoring students all play vital roles in familiarizing the community with the profession, Lee said.

“During the interactions you have when you are in these roles, people are getting to know what radiologists do and who radiologists are,” Lee said, noting that previous surveys and studies have outlined just how little the general public often know about radiology.

While there is a push among some to encourage radiologists to be active in their volunteer efforts, Brad Short, senior director of member services at the American College of Radiology, said that there is no shortage of people who are willing to give themselves to the profession, with an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 members volunteering at any given point in time.

The forms of volunteer vary, with some participating in international work, such as in Haiti, and others engaging in some of the organization’s advocacy work.

“We have 36,000 members all dedicated to providing radiological care, but they also have other interests so that we get a wide range of people who want to volunteer for different kinds of things,” Short said. “There is a way to find something for anyone.”

Gunderman said the biggest barriers to volunteering are often identifying the time and thinking creatively enough.

“Sometimes it is the very busiest people who still find time to volunteer,” he said. “To them, it is an essential time to a full life, and they look for three, two, one hours a week they can give.”

As for Krishnaraj, he first began to encourage radiologists to give back during his training years, and in a 2009 JACR article proposed the Heart of Radiology program that sought to encourage residents and fellows to volunteer their time. Now he would like to see it translated into something embraced not only by trainees, but also by the entire specialty.

“We have an unique opportunity when people are more energized and engaged to improve our image on a local level and help people,” Krishnaraj said. “Most community service-based projects are likely driven by one or two motivated people. It only takes that one or two to get it started, and I hope others follow.”


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