Category: Health Magazine, Winter 2024

Title:Reflections on health with Joseph Branda, M.D. (M’72), Radiologist

Author: Jane Varner Malhotra
Date Published: January 12, 2024
a man in a black vest and blue shirt
Photos: Sam Levitan / Georgetown University / iStock

I grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey, and went to college at Seton Hall University. I continued on to Georgetown’s medical school, which felt like a friendly place with a sense of warmth, like home. When I left for medical school, my mom wrote out recipes for me. In an Italian family, the main room in the house is the kitchen. handwriting in blue ink on a folded piece of paper

I got adopted into a great group of Georgetown friends in medical school and we’ve kept very tight over the years, especially after I broke my neck in a car accident near the end of my fourth year.

My classmates were so supportive and made sure I graduated, because I had three electives to go. The dean came to my hospital room to give me my diploma ahead of the graduation ceremony, so the joke is I graduated first in my class.

a rolled diploma with a blue ribbon

I was completely paralyzed at first but started getting sensations back and gradually, over 15 months, I became pretty independent but in a wheelchair. My right hand was shot but I had decent use of my left hand because before the accident I practiced tying surgical knots with my left hand when I was studying, using a string attached to my desk.

I had matched in cardiothoracic surgery, but as a quadriplegic I changed to radiology. There was some pushback, but Dr. Dieter Schellinger and Dr. Olcay Cigtay spoke up for me and I was accepted at Georgetown Hospital for radiology. Eventually I became chief resident.

In 1977 I set up a private radiology practice in Laurel, Maryland. The beginning was a nightmare to get the suite filled out—and I was a quarter million dollars in debt with all the equipment—but eventually we got it going pretty well.

I met my beloved wife Carol at the hospital in Laurel where I was moonlighting—she was the chief tech there. We adopted two children and built a nice house that’s completely accessible. She died in 2015.

an X-Ray and stethoscope

I’ve lived through many changes in the history of radiology. The ultrasound was just getting started when I began. Early CT scanners were extremely slow to create a whole image of the brain. Then MRI came along.

Mammography began with regular industrial film, which took an awful lot of radiation, to eventually more sensitive film screen, then later laser film and 3D. Now we are seeing computer-aided diagnosis.

I liked to talk to every patient in person, so they knew what was going on and felt comfortable. Some results took five days.

a dark green handprint with a heart

The economics of medicine are challenging, especially for smaller groups like ours, with so much depending on insurance company approvals. Some of our patients can barely afford food and then get slammed with hundreds or thousands of dollars in deductibles. We tried to make the tests as affordable as possible.

a microscope against a pink background

What I love about radiology is the variety of things you see and the broad scope of medical knowledge you need to interpret. I always liked machines and people so it worked out well for me.

My only regret is that my wife didn’t get to see her granddaughter Margaret or the wonderful adults our children Nicholas and Gabriela have become.

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