While many women decide to pursue careers in healthcare, not many choose to specialize in radiology. This has been a topic of discussion across the industry, but what does this lack of diversity in radiology mean for departments and the patients they serve?
Many have connected the limited diversity in the radiology workforce to limited experiences and perspectives among department staff, often resulting in reduced communication, comfort and compliance.1,2,3 This has led to the question of why the field lacks diversity. Factors including the perceived low amounts of patient contact, lack of exposure and work-life balance have all been associated with why many women do not join the radiology workforce.
Benefits of diversity in radiology
One of the benefits of a diverse workforce is relatability for both patients and its staff. Just as people make friends based on experiences and commonalities, some patients find it easier to relate to medical professionals that they share traits or experiences with. This may be because the similarities naturally put them at ease or because it is sometimes easier to communicate with those who have a similar background. In some ways, our beliefs and speech reflect our past experiences.
In a doctor's office, one of the obstacles that can present itself, which may be made easier by a diverse workforce, is a language barrier. If the geographic location of the department is one that has a high number of people who speak a non-English language as their first language, a doctor's office may suffer if it does not have a corresponding practitioner. For example, an area with a lot of Spanish speakers may benefit from having Spanish speaking physicians.
Similarly, shared experiences or commonalities may make it easier to communicate with your doctor. Some women prefer to go to female OBGYNs, because they feel more comfortable with someone who shares their anatomy and who may have dealt with similar conditions in the past on a personal level. As a result, it would make sense that women may be more comfortable with female radiology technologists when having imaging of the pelvis or breasts.
Compliance may be one of the hardest things for a doctor's office to ensure. Patients may decide a medicine or test is not necessary, against their physician's orders. As a result, many departments worry about compliance, and radiology is no different. One way to possibly increase compliance comes from shared experiences that can aid in communication. If a radiologist has gone through the same test, they may have pointers for making fasting or preparation easier for the patient. This is also true for easing patient fears throughout a scan or easing the scan's process in general. For example, a patient who has claustrophobia may benefit from procedures or tips put together by a technologist or other patients who also suffer from claustrophobia. Providing a more diverse radiology staff for patients can improve their experience and as a result compliance.
Obstacles to gender diversity
Radiology departments have been trying to figure out for years what causes so many women to specialize in other areas of healthcare rather than radiology. Surveys have been done on the preference of women, their education and their experiences in an attempt to understand.2-5 Throughout the years, a few different patterns have emerged as aspects that influence the decision of women in the Americas. Some departments face both unconscious and conscious biases, which can often be difficult to overcome.
Women often attest to preferring medical fields that have greater interactions with patients than they expect radiology to.2,4,5 In some surveys, women have stated that they do not face pre-clinical exposure to radiology which also impacts their decision.
One preconception that many medical students may hold is that radiology does not expose you to patients. Primary care and specialty doctors often see patients throughout the day, because of the nature of their appointments. However, some students believe that radiologists do not have as much interaction with patients. This factor influenced the choices both men and women about their future careers in one survey.4 To combat this belief, the researchers suggest it may be best to introduce students to radiologists who interact with patients on a regular basis or to shift the focus from interaction to impact.4
While in medical school, students may decide their specialties based upon their experiences in classes and through their observerships. Survey after survey shows that women have less exposure prior to picking their specialty to radiology than their male counterparts.2,4,5 The disparity between the genders did not have any specific reason, but it did seem to have an impact. The lack of exposure could be due to when students are exposed to the field of radiology through their coursework. In some cases, women just did not have exposure to the radiology field or radiology departments when they were observing at their hospitals.
Radiology departments and schools may have to consider the best ways to combat the general lack of exposure to both the field of radiology and radiology departments, as well as the idea that radiologists interact with patients less than other specialties. In some cases, this could increase diversity in the workforce. If schools are able to address these issues, they may find more women want to specialize in radiology. The resultant diversity may be crucial to increasing communication, comfort, and compliance in patients that visit a hospital's radiology department and delivering better patient care overall.
- Why diversity matters in radiology. HealthImaging.com. https://www.healthimaging.com/topics/practice-management/why-diversity-matters-radiology. Last accessed July 9, 2019.
- More women in radiology research: need for diversity and inclusion. HealthManagement.org. https://healthmanagement.org/c/imaging/news/more-women-in-radiology-research-need-for-diversity-and-inclusion Last accessed July 8, 2019.
- Diversity of radiology trainees lags behind other specialties. RadiologyBusiness.com. https://www.radiologybusiness.com/topics/leadership/diversity-radiology-trainees-lags-behind-other-specialties. Last accessed July 9, 2019.
- Choosing a Specialty in Medicine: Female Medical Students and Radiology. AJR.org. https://www.ajronline.org/doi/full/10.2214/AJR.06.0539. Last accessed July 9, 2019.
- Women in Radiology: Exploring the Gender Disparity. Sciencedirect.com. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1546144015010856. Last accessed July 9, 2019.