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We need mentorship programmes where women can find the right guides to see what can be done to position themselves in the field

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Over the last decade, radiology has struggled to recruit, retain, and advance women. The number of females in radiology continues to be abysmally low. According to a survey by the Association of American Medical Colleges, in 2017, while men and women graduated from medical school at a nearly equal rate, only 27 per cent of women graduates became radiology residents. These maybe numbers from the US, but in India too, the percentage of women radiologists isn’t too high.

There are several reasons for the low numbers. For starters, radiology has very negligible or sometimes no exposure during MBBS/internship. Often medical school curricula includes radiology a little late – by the third or fourth year, a time when students may have already decided on a speciality. Also, later choices are influenced by what we do during internships. That is why fields like OBGY, paediatrics, medicine, psychiatry become more appealing than radiology.

It is not just about early introduction in curricula. Sometimes, the way radiology is taught may be the issue. In most curricula, radiology requires you to sit behind the resident watching them read films. This does not provide window to patient management. We need radiology programmes that show different aspects of jobs, like discussing cases at tumour boards with other specialties, or calling surgeons to make recommendations based on imaging findings. There is a chance that if more women saw that, they may want to opt for the field.

Thirdly, female medical students may not see role models in radiology — the way they do in fields like paediatrics, internal medicine, or surgery. We need to support female radiology faculty’s careers to get more women in radiology. If the female faculty is developed in an academic environment that’s culturally supported, and we help them get promoted into leadership positions, it is likely that there are more female role models in radiology. For this, regular workshops and meets are needed for women in radiology, bringing in speakers on topics like how to get promoted, developing an educational portfolio, and work-life balance.

We have already seen that female role models have had great influence on women choosing to enter internal medicine and surgery in recent years. Women want to see other women in radiology positions making a big difference to medical students. Global data from last decade’s surgery literature has showed that when female medical students saw happy women in the residency programme during interviews, they realised they could be happy in that programme too.

Another reason some women state for not opting for radiology is the potential lack of patient contact. Those bothered by such issues can consider choosing fields like paediatric radiology and women’s imaging. Interventional radiology is another area with a lot of patient contact. One more issue is exposure to radiation as a major fear among females and their families as well.

All in all, we need more initiatives that encourage women to choose the field. We need mentorship programmes where women can find the right guides to see what can be done to position themselves in the field. If a student wants a mentor, they need to make it a high priority, because there are many competing priorities. Another way to increase the number of women is by showing radiology’s impact to students. Over the years, radiology has become an indispensable area. Be it cancer patients or trauma patients, they all require imaging. It is important to project all of this in the right manner.

There is a pressing need, now more than ever, to contemplate and continue an open dialogue on the gender gap in radiology. We need to collectively move toward greater diversity in our profession. In terms of the future of women in radiology, it is possible that as medical curricula changes to be more inclusive of radiology, it will start to change the way women view the stream. There have to be more efforts to offer numerous opportunities for professional development and mentorship, along with tools and support for women faculty, staff, and trainees.

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