Radiology industry's lack of professional diversity is unacceptable

A recent study published in the journal Radiology contains some rather depressing numbers concerning the role women and minorities play in the specialty.

Women make up 50 percent of the population, yet according to the research, account for about 24 percent of healthcare providers. Minority underrepresentation is even more extreme, according to the authors. To make matters worse, there has been no significant increase in the percentage of women and minorities entering the field as radiology residents over the last eight years, which suggests that this underrepresentation is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

The status quo is unacceptable, and certainly is not healthy for the specialty.

Plenty of reasons have been suggested for the lack of women and minorities in radiology. For example, fears about radiation exposure could lead women--particularly those of child-bearing years--to eschew the specialty. A survey of Canadian medical students presented at the 2013 American Roentgen Ray Society annual meeting in Washington, D.C., in April concluded that another reason some women reject radiology as a specialty is a concern about working in dark, isolated reading rooms.

That same study also contained a more worrisome finding: nearly half of the women surveyed were dissuaded from entering radiology because of a belief that it is male-dominated. So there seems to be a vicious cycle at work.

The perception that radiologists don't interact with their patients also seems to work against the specialty when it comes to women and minorities. For example, the study in Radiology found that a survey of blacks and Hispanics found that these groups rated patient contact as one of the most important factors influencing career choice; women also rate patient contact as a determining factor in residency selection.

So what can be done?

Considering the emphasis women and minorities place on patient contact when making medical career decisions, it certainly would be in the specialty's best interest to continue to stress the importance of patient interaction and communication. It also would be useful to examine whether unconscious bias plays any role in suppressing the number of women and minorities who enter the specialty.

Radiology leaders also should remember that diversity should be more than an obligation. The more diverse a workplace, the more creative, innovative and productive it is bound to be. Consequently, the specialty will be missing a beat if it doesn't do more to encourage diversity. - Mike  @FierceHealthIT

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