GERRAF: Mentoring the Future of Radiology

GE Healthcare

“Clearly our objective from the beginning of this program many years ago was to train future leaders of academic radiology and our success rate is off the charts. No matter how you would measure it, it is the best training program for early career faculty in America,” says Dr. Steve Seltzer, Chair Emeritus, Department of Radiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

In 1992, the GE AUR Radiology Research Academic Fellowship (GERRAF) was created to train and retain leaders in academic radiology. Since then, the program has been one of the most sought-after fellowships in academic radiology, helping provide much needed scholarly and research support.

“[Before this,] radiology was not getting its share of research support and many young radiologists were leaving academia for private practice,” explains Dr. Jacob (Bram) Stolk, General Manager of Medical and Scientific Affairs, GE Healthcare. “The resulting collaboration, GERRAF, annually gives young radiology faculty the tools that they need to pursue their research goals: funding, protected time and mentoring.”

After 30 years, GERRAF has helped launch the careers of 106 Fellows from 53 different academic institutions. And today, this partnership remains committed to investing in academia, understanding that medical research can have pivotal outcomes for patients suffering from a range of diseases and illnesses.

To this end, the GERRAF’s mission is to:

  1. Develop a team of academic radiologists trained in patient-oriented and health services research and demonstrate the value of such training to the field of radiology; and
  2. Provide an opportunity for a critical mass of young radiologists from a wide geographic distribution of academic health centers to receive excellent training in health services research and clinical research methodology.

The fellowship also serves to develop the academic careers of its recipients through a program of mentoring and networking—key elements of professional success.

“For the fellows, the main advantage is to be able to be part of a research community that works toward improving care delivery,” explains Dr. Ruth Carlos, GERRAF Fellow (2001), Chair of the GERRAF Board of Review and Professor of Radiology and Assistant Chair for Clinical Research, University of Michigan Medical School. “There are many training programs directed at individuals who want to develop the technology, [but our] program seeks to train researchers who want to understand what happens once you implement technology in clinical care.”

Each year, the GERRAF Board of Review selects up to four applicants to receive two-year, $140,000 fellowships. The program stipends are paid annually to sponsoring institutions for salary, research and education support in exchange for protecting half the Fellow's time to conduct the approved research. Additionally, a unique GERRAF benefit is the program's exceptionally strong focus on mentoring, both within the Fellow's institution and as part of the many formal educational activities that GERRAF conducts.

“The most important impact was in the mentorship I received… both in preparing the application and then in carrying out the research,” says Dr. Grist Thomas, Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and former GERRAF fellowship participant. “The impact of some of those board members and senior investigators to further shape and call [WCSS(H1] and maybe take some of the rough edges off of my work was really very helpful.”

Dr. Gelareh Sadigh, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine adds: "I feel like all the GERRAF fellows were so supportive of each other, being part of the GERRAF community opened up a lot of opportunities for me, from my co-fellows and the fellows that were in the years before or below me in terms of getting involved with lectures or different journals. I think this means you find people that think the same as you, do the same type of research as you, and it makes the collaboration much easier."

Many of today's emerging leaders in academic radiology are GERRAF Fellows. The scope and diversity of the research projects selected by the GERRAF fellows reflect the enormous opportunity it provides to pursue meaningful research in many areas of technology assessment and patient outcomes.

“It's a cliché, but first and foremost, pursue your passion,” adds Dr. Grist. “You know, there's lots of opportunities for funding. It's really difficult to get. However, when you have that passion for really exploring something and its impact on human health, you have that moral compass that keeps you going when you've had some setbacks.”

Much of the GERRAF research which spans all of the diagnostic imaging fields, takes on a more publish health services focus, not just clinical or translational research. And even after 30 years, GERRAF keeps demonstrating its relevance and role in the evolution and innovation of radiology and healthcare.

When asked what topics would benefit from additional research in 2022, industry-wide challenges rose to the top, including: physician burnout, artificial intelligence (AI) adoption, and health disparities.

As you're aware is a big problem with physician burnout throughout medicine, including in the field of radiology,” explains Dr. Grist. “And our human resources are our most valuable resources, so I think projects that might look at the impact of AI and how radiologists’ interpretations and work might be improved by the use of artificial intelligence.”

“I think one other topic – in addition to [AI] – is health disparity,” adds Dr. Sadigh. “Especially in the COVID year we saw how much we had widening of health disparity in terms of the outcomes between minorities and non-minorities… What is the intervention? What should we do to be pleased this disparity gap? And I think research that I'm in are focusing on closing the disparity gap, whether it's in imaging or medicine, that also can be a great topic.

Dr. Carlos continues: "As the chair, we and the board together set the direction of the [GERRAF] on a year-by-year basis, including ensuring that the research that we solicit is a response to contemporary problems, because as you can imagine, over the 30-year span of the program, the types of problems, issues that we need to respond to and do research in has changed."

For more information on the GERRAF program or 2022 fellow application process, visit the Association of University Radiologists’ website.