AJR: No quick fix for gender gap in radiology

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Female radiologists, particularly those in leadership roles, remain relatively rare, particularly compared with other specialties. A quarterly Masters of Radiology Panel Discussion published in the January issue of American Journal of Roentgenology surveyed leaders about strategies to encourage more women to enter the radiology field and pursue leadership roles. The answers were varied and identified the lack of a quick fix.

The data on women in radiology reveal a gender disparity. The percentage of female radiology residents has hovered between one-quarter to one-third of all residents, according to Howard P. Forman, MD, from the department of diagnostic radiology at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Women represent a smaller percentage of practicing radiologists and among those, a significant fraction work part-time.

Alexander Norbash, MD, from the department of radiology at Boston University Medical Center in Boston, advocated for formulated match lists to yield 50 percent of matched women in each department. Strategies to support this goal include: creation of an atmosphere that appreciates and values women; parity in leadership and research positions; appropriate mentoring and support; and policies that address work-life balance, according to Norbash.

The panelists identified multiple ways in which women enhance radiology: a more democratic and participatory approach to leadership and sensitivity to women’s health issues.

One specific strategy to support gender diversity, wrote Norbash, is creation of employment contracts for part-time and/or off-site teleradiology services.

The panelists also offered several suggestions to help female residents and radiologists as they start families. “To successfully attract women radiologists in sufficient numbers, thought leaders, radiology residencies, radiology departments and the American Board of Radiology may want to describe and formulate a transparent and simple approach to permitting residents adequate time off for pregnancy,” wrote Norbash.

Ella A. Kazerooni, MD, from the department of radiology at University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, emphasized current leaders should help women understand that they do not need to follow the same timeline as men. That is, many women may focus on child-rearing from ages 30 to 45, and believe that the time to initiate a leadership role has passed by age 45. However, women can focus on leadership later in their careers.

According to Norman J. Beauchamp, Jr., MD, from the department of radiology at University of Washington in Seattle, engaging women early in their career paths is critical. “It is reaching down to first- and second-year medical students so that they can see radiology as an impactful career in medicine that is fulfilling, embraces balance and values diversity.”

Extending education to and supporting future referring providers is as important as addressing the interests of future radiologists, according to Marcia C. Javitt, MD, from the department of radiology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Finally, the panelists explored leadership issues, with Kazerooni noting that women are often asked to take on certain types of leadership roles, such as education, which can be time-consuming and interfere with other leadership opportunities. “One of the things that I often counsel women on is to think about what they see themselves doing in their career over time and trying to avoid taking on responsibilities, particularly teaching responsibilities, that are extremely time-consuming and will prevent them from reaching their ultimate goals.”

In addition, mentoring by female radiologists could spur interest among female trainees. However, as radiology programs cultivate women as mentors, they should provide support in terms of time, training and recognition, according to David B. Larson, MD, from the department of radiology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

The panelists agreed on the importance of making radiology as welcoming a specialty as possible. Javitt summed, “The opportunity cost for a full-time radiologist to teach students is high because of the lost revenue for that time. The cost of doing nothing to turn the tide of the current unpopularity of our specialty is even higher and may become incalculable.”