Survey: Rad residency programs must sharpen efforts to draw women, engage med students

New female doctors applying for residency openings in radiology have different reasons for doing so than their male peers, and their priorities may challenge residency-program directors who’ve been trusting the conventional wisdom on things like work-life balance trumping career goals.  

Meanwhile, regardless of gender, the more exposure medical students get to radiology during med school, the more likely they are to view the specialty in a positive light and, in turn, pursue it.

The single-site study behind the findings was published online May 25 in Academic Radiology.

Lars Grimm, MD, MHS, and colleagues at Duke University Medical Center e-mailed an anonymous survey to all 657 MDs who applied there for a diagnostic radiology residency position in the 2015-16 interview season.

The survey drew responses from 202 applicants, of whom 155 were men and 47 women.

The respondents scored influencing factors along two tracks: aspects of radiology and dedicated exposure to the specialty during medical school.

Overturning expectations raised by past studies comparing gender-specific perceptions of radiology with those of other specialties, the researchers found the women radiology hopefuls felt significantly more favorably than the men about the opportunities radiology offers for leadership (P = 0.04) and research (P < 0.01).

On the other hand, the women indicated more negative perceptions of radiology than the men when it came to scoring flexible work hours (P = 0.04), work environment (P = 0.04), lifestyle (P = 0.04), impact on patient care (P = 0.05), high current debt load (P = 0.02), gender distribution of the field (P = 0.04) and use of emerging/advanced technology (P = 0.02).

With these concerns in mind, the authors comment in their discussion that radiology residency programs “may wish to emphasize aspects of their program that can compensate for these perceived negative factors in the field. For example, concerns over work environment and lifestyle can be mitigated by emphasizing supportive training environments and support systems in place through the residency program or the graduate medical education office.”

As for dedicated exposure to radiology during med school, 20 percent had none at all, while 48 percent had preclinical exposure and 55 percent elective rotation.

More tellingly, 18 percent experienced radiology intensively, via core rotation, and this correlated with a significantly positive impact on the decision to pursue radiology (P < 0.01).

“If radiology is going to compete with other specialties for the best and brightest medical students,” the authors comment, “then it behooves radiology programs to advocate for the inclusion of more direct radiology exposure during the preclinical years and to include radiology as a core rotation.”

The authors further found that both women and men had negative feelings about radiology’s lopsided gender distribution. They point to statistics showing that, as of 2013, women made up 45.9 percent of all resident physicians in the U.S.—but only 26.8 percent of radiology residents were women.

“To achieve greater gender parity in radiology, radiology leaders must recognize that gender discrepancy is an important problem and that active remediation is likely needed as the last decade has proven that this problem will not solve itself,” Grimm et al. write.