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Duke study finds women less likely to enter radiology careers

Emergency and Trauma Center at Duke University Hospital in Durham July, 24, 2008. (Ildar Sagdejev/ CC-BY-SA-3.0)

While many medical specialties are experiencing an influx, or even a majority, of women in the workplace, new research has found some specialties are excluded from this trend.

After frequently finding herself the only woman in the room during her residency interviews, Sarah Cater, a resident in Duke's radiology program, authored a study on the global gender disparity within the radiology field. Her findings showed women make up 33.5 percent of radiologists worldwide and just 27.2 percent in the U.S., as seen by membership in the Radiological Society of North America.

Cater explained how radiology can be an excellent specialty for women because it has reasonable, predictable hours, a good salary and a significant impact on patient care. She previously read surveys which claimed women did not go into radiology due to a lack of direct patient care, but specialties with comparable direct patient care, like pathology, still have a trainee population which is approximately 50 percent female.

“I didn’t find the survey satisfying at all,” Cater said. “It didn’t make sense to me, and this study was the result of my personal interest in the gender question.”

Cater said her inspiration for conducting the study on international trends came due to a rotation she did in Malaysia while in medical school. In contrast with the U.S., Malaysia has a largely female workforce, and this difference prompted Cater to attempt to pinpoint the individual factors which may cause the disparity.

Cater noted countries’ national metrics of gender equality and the percentage of women versus men in nations’ medical schools as common indicators of a lack of female radiologists on a global scale. Beyond just quantitative measures, Cater sees the lack of female role models and superiors within radiology as a possible reason for the disparity.

“I feel a responsibility as a female resident radiologist to give back and try to model myself as a female radiologist younger women can look up to,” Cater said.

Cater added that, at Duke University, she sees the radiology department making visible efforts to make the workplace more welcoming toward women.

Karen Johnson, residency program director of Duke Radiology, said the easiest and best thing she can do is be cognizant of the gender disparity both in recruiting and in resident treatment. As a female radiologist, she sees diversity in the career as a matter of utmost importance.

“With all aspects of life, diversity adds robustness, and people flourish with diversity whether it’s gender diversity, ethnic diversity, racial diversity – it’s all just very beneficial,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Duke have made strides to improve the issue. There is now a committee on gender and diversity, and in the fall, the entire radiology faculty attended a retreat designed to teach the staff about implicit bias and the challenges a colleague may face as someone who looks different than the stereotypical radiologist.

In regards to Cater’s study, Johnson said she was not shocked by the disparity as it is something she has seen throughout her career, but she is excited about what the upcoming generation will do to help expose and solve the issue – both in radiology and beyond.

“I think it was about time someone looked into this and validated the thoughts many of us have had on the issue," Johnson said. “I’m really proud of Sarah and other young women who are taking the bull by the horns, putting the science behind what I think a lot of women have felt for many, many years.”


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