Development program aims to educate, empower female faculty

Members of the Vanderbilt University department of radiology have put significant effort into increasing the number of women in leadership positions at academic radiology practices, as detailed in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

“National data reveal that within academic radiology practices, women are underrepresented among senior faculty ranks, are less likely to hold tenured positions, and are less likely to be in departmental leadership roles,” Lucy B. Spalluto, MD, and Stephanie E. Spottswood, MD, MSPH, Vanderbilt University department of radiology and radiological sciences, wrote. “Among full radiology professors, only 19 percent are women, and among all radiology department chairs, only 16 percent are women. Although women and men are represented in equal numbers at the assistant professor level, women do not advance through the ranks at the same pace as men, and many remain at the assistant professor level for their entire careers.”

Hoping to help eliminate this underrepresentation, the department formed its Female Faculty Development Program, which works to prepare women for leadership positions. As the authors explained, there are numerous reasons why this issue needed to be addressed.

“Academic advancement of women is, of course, important for personal career satisfaction, but it has benefits for our profession and for the health of our patients,” Spalluto and Spottswood wrote. “Research on race, gender, and partnership between patients and physicians revealed that improved cross-cultural communication and access to a diverse group of physicians yields higher quality of care and better health outcomes. From an institutional perspective, adequate female representation in the higher ranks is needed to maintain institutional diversity of perspective and talent, which ultimately contributes to organizational success. Cultivating a more diverse leadership with female representation is critical to improving problem-solving techniques, the effectiveness of education methods, and the quality of service.”

The program surveyed the department’s female faculty to determine perceived “barriers to advancement” and then developed 14 education modules to help the faculty thrive. Topics included “Understanding of Promotional Guidelines,” “Time Management and Organizational Skills,” “Conflict Management,” and others.

Each module is made up of two anonymous surveys--one completed before the module and one after--and the discussion of specific written materials. Guest speakers are brought in to participate in these discussions, and food and beverages are provided.

“In addition to increasing knowledge, these educational meetings serve as an opportunity for women in the department to network,” Spalluto and Spottswood wrote. “Junior and senior faculty members who otherwise might not cross paths are able to engage in meaningful conversations. This interaction allows us to establish a means to strengthen intradepartmental mentoring.”

Spalluto and Spottswood noted that three of these modules have been completed thus far: “Understanding of Promotional Guidelines,” “Developing Your Educational Portfolio,” and “Writing/Reviewing for Professional Journals.” Surveys completed after the modules shows increased knowledge in every instance, and feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

The authors also shared that since this program began, two faculty members were promoted, one was awarded her first grant, one had her first scientific abstract accepted, one accepted a leadership role in alumni relations, and yet another has decided to pursue a seminar to assist in making the transition to leadership.

“We hope that these efforts will expand the pool of female radiologists prepared to assume leadership positions, with the added benefit of building a pipeline to recruit female medical students,” Spalluto and Spottswood wrote. “Increasing the number of successful female leaders in radiology has the potential to positively influence female medical students’ career choices regarding radiology residency.”

recent opinion piece published by the American Journal of Roentgenology also touched on the underrepresentation of women in academic radiology departments.