Survey: Female med students cite lack of patient contact for deciding against radiology

A perceived lack of direct patient contact makes female medical students five times less likely to choose radiology as a specialty than their male counterparts, according to the results of a Canadian study published online Jan. 13 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

A mere 1.5 percent of female medical students make radiology their first-choice discipline, as opposed to nearly 6 percent of men, despite the fact that women make up more than half of all Canadian medical students and have an equal success rate in obtaining radiology residency positions.

It’s a discrepancy worth investigating, says lead author Rebecca Zener, MD, and her colleagues from Western University in London, Ontario.

“The reasons underlying gender disparity in radiology training programs remain unknown," they wrote. "Are women who consider radiology attracted to different qualities in a specialty, compared with women who do not? Are men and women deterred from pursuing radiology as a specialty for different reasons?”

To answer those questions, Zener and her team conducted an anonymous online survey of all English-speaking Canadian medical schools, asking participants to provide demographic data including age, gender, level of training and prior areas of study. Students were then asked what factors attracted or dissuaded them from pursuing radiology based on their responses.

The results showed that female medical students who were not considering a specialization in radiology placed more value on direct patient contact (87 percent) than those who were considering radiology as a specialty (70 percent). Women were also found to have less preclinical radiology experience (28 percent) as compared to male students (28 percent.)

“Lack of direct patient contact deters medical students from pursuing radiology as a specialty, and we confirm that this factor is especially important for women who are not considering a career in radiology,” wrote Zener and colleagues, adding that increased exposure before medical school could lead to more women choosing a career in radiology. “Having less pre-clerkship radiology exposure may lead to women’s misperception of the role of physics in radiology, and their lack of awareness of radiology subspecialties that involve more patient interaction.”

The researchers suggested that exposing female students’ to patient-centric radiology subspecialties earlier through new programs and initiatives is necessary to attract more women to the imaging profession, but warned that “a commitment to actively recruiting women to these programs must be made.”