Vascular-Interventional Radiology (VIR) Integrated senior resident Dr. Clayton Commander first made his mark at UNC as a scholar. Commander had made cross-disciplinary inroads earning his doctorate in Operations Research from the University of Florida, and UNC Distinguished Professor of Medicine Dr. Michael Knowles (Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care) recruited him in 2009 to participate in cystic fibrosis genetic modification studies.

“My larger than life, energetic and proud PhD advisor Dr. Panos Pardalos instilled in me a love of research and taught me how to form teams of colleagues with each individual offering unique skills to better the group. I brought that passion to Dr. Knowles’ group and we had many successful collaborations.” 

Two mentors at two large research institutions exposed Commander to collaboration as the key to generating more meaningful research. In the years since, Commander’s computational mathematics and computer science expertise has become his collaborative niche. Whether he’s recruiting medical students and junior residents to his own projects, or being recruited to faculty studies, Commander’s value to research teams has given him many opportunities at UNC to serve as lead investigator or co-author.

When Commander entered medical school at UNC in 2010, his scholarly aspirations inevitably shifted to learning more about the range of specialties he could pursue.  In his first year, he was introduced to long-time VIR leaders in the Department — Professors of Radiology Drs. Charles Burke and Bob Dixon.

“I was immediately hooked [on VIR] and never looked back, and throughout medical school, I grew to love the Department of Radiology. When residency applications were due, I had my heart set on UNC. Nine years later, I still love coming to work every day, and those early encounters with Drs. Burke and Dixon have led to wonderful mentorships and friendships.”

Since 2015, Commander has been the Department’s first Integrated IR resident, combining both Diagnostic and Interventional training into a five-year program. Like the conventional Diagnostic Radiology residents, the first three years are focused on establishing a solid diagnostic foundation. In July 2018, he began the first of two IR-intensive training years. Entering his final year of training, Commander has already performed over 1100 image-guided procedures.  His solid Diagnostic training and additional time on IR service and Vascular Surgery and Surgical ICU clinical rotations have made him a well-rounded physician. Seeing patients in clinic and rounding on in-patients has also developed him into a clinician and a knowledgeable consultant.

“I am so thankful for the opportunity to be UNC’s first integrated IR resident. The creation of [this program] is a major step forward in training the next generation of interventional radiologists at a rapidly expanding time when a one-year fellowship is not adequate to fully equip trainees to practice broad-scope IR. We have a lot to offer both patients and clinical teams faced with complex decision making. The additional training in the Integrated IR/DR program helps establish a firm footing so that we can practice clinically relevant interventional radiology. It’s the difference between being a technician and a clinician.”

“I look forward to helping pave the way for future Integrated IR residents. Already slated are adding electives to the program curriculum for residents to participate in multidisciplinary tumor boards and rotating through the transplant and hepatology services. We also foresee allowing program residents to join Diagnostic Radiology trainees in volunteering with UNC Radiology Malawi Program and RAD-AID International to bring imaging services to under-resourced regions worldwide.”