A medical student at Temple University and her research mentor want to make the medical field more inclusive of Black patients. Angela Udongwo joined radiologist Hillel Maresky’s lab as part of summer research between her second and third year of school. They both saw a lack of medical research when it comes to identifying Black hairstyles such as locs, braids and twists in radiological imaging.

Maresky was surprised at the lack of research done on the subject when he arrived at Temple in 2019. He had trained in hospitals that served predominantly white patients prior, he told The Philadelphia Inquirer. Udongwo took the lead on the hair research project. 

“These hairstyles are so common: braids, twists, locs,” Udongwo said. “They are tried and true.”

These common hairstyles can obscure radiological images and can even be mistaken as a sign of disease. Products such as oils and conditioners can also create spots on scans. The lack of research leaves room for error among physicians, according to Udongwo and Maresky.

“I think we can do better,” Maresky said, also adding that physicians should be learning how to recognize Black hairstyles in order to broaden their knowledge of their field. 

Udongwo notes a “deafening silence” on the topic. She said she found almost no studies concerning Black hair in X-ray, CT scans and MRIs. The student has presented some of her research at a conference of the Pennsylvania Radiology Society.

“I’m surrounded by people who really like to learn and want to become better physicians,” she said. “I’m really excited to see where this goes.”

Maresky wants this information to be shared with his mostly white peers. In fact, over 70% of practicing radiology physicians are men and almost as many are white, according to a 2021 survey conducted by the American Medical Association. Only 3% of radiologists are Black.

“We may not be the most well endowed hospital in terms of donations and grants,” Maresky said. “But we do have something that, I think, is even more powerful: A diverse patient population.”