Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) resident Daniel Chonde, MD, PhD, didn’t plan to be a radiologist. But in his fourth year as an undergraduate physics major, he changed direction. “I realized I wanted something more,” he says. “I wanted something with a little more human element, something where I could get out of bed and say I was making a difference in someone’s life.”
That led him to a doctoral program in medical and biophysics and working on the next generation of MRI scanners to help biologists and doctors with research projects.
But that still wasn’t enough.
Chonde explains, “As a researcher, you can spend your entire life building the perfect shoelace. But then in the end it’s just a shoelace and someone’s going to come around with the Velcro and your shoelace is going to be obsolete.”
So he went to medical school to pursue a career in radiology. Chonde, who has a gregarious personality, knew that his chosen field was not known for close patient contact. The son of an Italian-American mother and an Ethiopian immigrant father, he also knew that radiology was not known for diversity among practitioners.
“Radiology has the stereotype that it is not necessarily welcoming to other races, because we follow a very specific, buttoned-up, conservative appearance, which can turn people off,” Chonde says. “There’s the belief that we’re not necessarily patient-centered or that there’s no way for us to give back to our communities, which can turn people away from radiology.”
Then he met MGH radiologist Efren Flores, MD, a Puerto Rican native who works to reduce health disparities among the Latinx population. Flores observed that many patients would miss appointments because they needed multiple bus rides just to get to the clinic.
Chonde says about Flores, “He showed that the department benefits when all patients make their appointments, even if it means we have to pay for Uber for some of these patients. That was something that no one would have even imagined investigating before he came.”
So Chonde set about opening minds and opportunities through Rad Boot Camp: Radiology, Equity, Inclusion, an MGH collaboration with Emory University School of Medicine and Vanderbilt University Medical Center which focuses on increasing diversity in the radiology applicant pipeline.
The boot camp, launched in 2020, aims to hold quarterly seminars on relevant topics, such as the resident application process, interviewing, life skills and financial planning. Mentoring and access to high-quality research are also on the agenda.
“You need someone who is going to first show you that you can succeed,” he says.
And as a “seasoned PhD,” Chonde knows that “the idea of research can be very scary,” adding that the boot camp’s goals include highlighting the relevant journals and what they are looking for—and even expanding the definition of research.
“I’m working on an art project now,” says Chonde. “That art project is research you can publish.”
Collaboration is central to the effort. “We all have the same end goal and that is to increase diversity,” Chonde says. “When we pool our resources, we have the opportunity to make a bigger difference in students’ lives, and we can have a larger impact on driving them to radiology or bettering their situation. When we work separately, it’s competition.”
Chonde’s focus on collaboration with untraditional partners is already showing results by winning the Massachusetts Medical Society Information Technology Award for RadTranslate, a solution to help with the translator shortage due to COVID-19. It was developed by Marc Succi, MD, of the MGH-BWH MESH Incubator. It was the first collaboration between a hospital tech incubator and a DE&I group, MGH Radiology Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, showing how being creative with DE&I initiatives can produce meaningful and far-reaching impacts. RadTranslate is beginning to be used in different departments and across the country.
Chonde’s goal is to make radiology more of a go-to specialty for underrepresented people and communities. To achieve that goal, the boot camp is unlimited in size and capacity and is 100% free. His aspiration is to extend the opportunity to technologists, nurses and anyone else who’s interested.
“Radiology is different from other specialties, because you don’t necessarily have a radiology rotation in medical school,” Chonde says. “It’s optional, but since radiology is so integral to every specialty, we believe that everyone deserves high-quality radiology education, even if you want to be a surgeon. Everyone deserves access.”
This story was featured in Mass General Brigham’s 2021 Check-up on DE&I Report “Equity in a time of crisis.”