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Recognising Women in Radiology

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Workplaces can be substantially more challenging if you are a woman, and the field of radiology is no different. Although women make up for a significant number of radiologists in India, multiple factors contribute to form a work environment which is not very conducive to their growth. As a result, only a few lady radiologists manage to make it to the top of their organisations. The second panel discussion of Express Healthcare’s Radiology and Imaging Conclave 2019 dealt with the sensitive topic of gender bias in radiology and what steps can be taken to overcome it.

The panel was blessed with the presence of Dr Sneh Bhargav, Former Director and Professor- Emeritus, AIIMS, who became the first woman to head AIIMS when she took up its reins in 1984. Other panellists included Dr Ashu Seth Bhalla, Department of Radiodiagnosis, AIIMS; Dr Rochita Venkatraman, Director Clinical Radiology, Apollo Hospitals, Chennai; and , Dr Bhagyam Raghavan, Senior Consultant Radiologist, Apollo Speciality Hospital. The discussion was moderated by Dr Nandini Bahri, professor of Radiology, MP Shah Hospital.

The entire hall sat in awed silence as Dr Bahri requested Dr Bhargav to recount her exceptional journey as one of the earliest lady radiologists of the country and the challenges that came with it.

“This is a man’s world, yes, but that does not mean that we women can not survive in it. We survive, and we even outclass men when it is required,” replied Dr Bhargav. On her appointment as AIIMS director, Dr Bhargav shared that despite the fact that all her competitors for the post were men, she was recognised and chosen to head India’s most prestigious medical institute. “It is important for women to learn the art of selling yourself. It is a tough world, and acknowledgement comes with difficulty. Learn to stand up for yourself despite all odds, don’t let your talent and potential be overlooked. Self-promotion is an art that must be learned by all women,” versed Dr Bhargav. The discussion then shifted to how brotherhood among male colleagues impacts their female counterparts. Panellists argued that men in the industry must understand that just because women cannot participate in certain ‘after hours’ bonding activities, that should not mean that promotional opportunities for them are compromised upon.

Dr Chakraborty insisted that it is important for women to learn to fight for this disparity. The panellists also acknowledged that lady radiologists need to group-up and form a sisterhood which supports and mentors its members. On the other hand, lady radiologists can encourage their male counterparts to be more supportive by proactively communicating with them, by engaging them in their work. For example, Dr Venkatraman describes, “If a case has been referred to me, I make sure to follow it up with my surgeon. I talk to him about the challenges that he is facing in the case, what does he need from me and this encourages my male colleagues to send me more referrals. Lady radiologists need to become more confident and work on their professional communication.”

The panel then contemplated on the challenges that lady radiologists face in academia. Dr Bhalla said, “It is not that there are not enough women in academia; the problem is with the fact that very few of them get to reach the top positions in academic institutions. The only way we can overcome this is by mentorship- women who have acquired a certain level of power need to empower other women with potential.” She also raised a question on the fairness of elections that are conducted by professional radiology bodies and stated that biased elections hamper the chances of talented individuals to reach influential places. “Professional bodies like IRIA need to have women on board so that concerns related to our gender can be addressed in all fairness.” Everyone on the panel reached a consensus on the fact that affirmative action has to be provided by the government for cases when women are removed from certain specialities because of their temporary absence due to maternal commitments. Also, flexible working hours can be helpful for women to better manage their work-life balance- and mentors and employers need to understand this. After an audience member pointed out that there is a need for reservation to allow women to grow, the panel agreed that indeed, reservation in professional bodies could address the issue of fair representation of women radiologists.

Also, the reservation should be proportional to the percentage of the total number of women in radiology. Lastly, they also discussed how women radiologists are often limited to doing only breast scans and how this limits their scope of learning and growth. On the way forward, Dr Venkatraman reiterated the need for women radiologists to actively communicate with their male counterparts, especially with their clinical colleagues. Management, she said, takes note of people who make the effort to communicate and bring together professionals from different specialities.

Key Highlights:

  • Dr Sneh Bhargav, the first woman radiologist in India, shared experiences from her six and a half decade long career as a radiologist and about her tenure as the first female Director of AIIMS Delhi.
  • Fraternisation among men should not hinder the chances of promotion for their women colleagues.
    Moreover, women should not lose out of because of this hindrance- it is important that they fight and resist such an occurrence.
  • Lady radiologists should engage with surgeons and physicians, constantly upgrade themselves, push themselves and network diligently.
  • One huge way women can be promoted in academic radiology is by mentorship – empowered women need to empower other women.
  • Elections in professional bodies can be unfair to meritorious professionals.
  • More than reservation, we need to focus on affirmative actions that encourage women to join and grow in the field of radiology. Also, removing women from significant positions after a prolonged absence due to maternity leave is wrong.
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