Bridging the Gender Gap in Radiology: Part 1

Setting the Foundation



August 2015

Three years ago, I sat in a room full of applicants and waited to get over my interview jitters ahead of my first radiology residency interview. Those who had already interviewed reassured me that conversation was casual, and, indeed, the interviews were meant as a way to get to know us as opposed to being a chance to grill us on details of research or test clinical acumen. My first interviewer, a female radiologist, caught me by surprise: “Why do you think there are so few female radiologists?”

Admittedly, I fumbled. I had never considered the dearth of women in radiology, especially since I had such a strong female influence in my decision to pursue a career in radiology. My medical school radiology mentor was a prominent member of the medical school faculty and a radiology program director who exuded unparalleled enthusiasm for teaching and student advocacy. I continue to view her as a role model. Even at my current residency program, I am surrounded by female radiologists I can only hope to emulate.

Over the past decade or so, studies have attempted to elucidate reasons female medical students avoid going into radiology and understand the factors students consider when choosing a field. Students appear to make their decisions based on factors including flexible work hours, intellectual challenge, role models, and a desire for patient contact. Especially for female students, having a role model was strongly associated with choosing a particular discipline. Furthermore, in 2014, 731,595 people applied for medical school and 47.8 percent of students starting medical school were women. In contrast, the same year, only 28.8 percent of those who applied for diagnostic radiology were women. Similar statistics are seen upon review of the past decade of the match.

Women also hold a disproportionately small number of leadership positions in medicine. A 2014 study of academic radiology departments showed 38 percent of women were instructors, 31 percent were assistant professors, 26 percent were associate professors, and 18 percent were full professors. Alarmingly, even in female-dominated fields such as pediatrics and OBGYN, only 31 percent and 28 percent were full professors, respectively. In addition to the existing gender imbalance, this tapering trend in the academic hierarchy raises the fundamental question of what prevents women from reaching the upper echelon of leadership positions. Significantly reduced presence of women radiologists in these leadership roles may translate to fewer role models for prospective radiology trainees.

We know the factors that impede female students from pursuing a career in radiology. We have also identified the features that attract them to certain disciplines. Now we need to focus on changing the system to increase the visibility of female radiologists and allow different career tracks to support all radiologists in their roles that extend beyond medicine.

\Today’s society demands more involvement from each individual than in the past; with that said, it is unrealistic to give 100 percent in all aspects of life. By allowing flexibility in career advancement, more women will rise to the level of leadership positions to help attract more driven female medical students.

Perhaps I am an anomaly (and incredibly fortunate) in having surrounded myself with accomplished female radiologists early in my career.

Part 2 of this series will focus on the stories of these female radiologists.

By Jacqueline Junn, MD (PGY-3), Emory University School of Medicine

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