By Allison Khoo
“Does anyone think of a lonely dark room when they think about radiology?” My radiology professor started his first lecture with this question. My classmates and I looked at each other, grinning, and slowly raised our hands. Over half the class had their hands up. It was our first year of medical school and none of us had spent any time on the wards, but still we thought we knew what radiology was. “Well, feel free to join me in the reading room any time –you’ll find it’s hard to catch a moment alone.” he said as he started the slide set.

I still remember the angiograms from that lecture.  As I made my way through medical school, pouring over my own patients’ imaging and meeting incredible radiology faculty, I began to seriously considering radiology as a career.

Oh, but you’re so nice!

I got that reaction more than once when divulging my specialty interests, and I believe it comes from the clash of two separate stereotypes. One such stereotype regards radiologists as reclusive introverts hiding far away from patients in the dark. The other regards female physicians as having a sparkly disposition and sunny bedside manner. Even within the medical community, it is difficult for many to find an intersection between these two fantasies.

When I got involved in the interventional radiology interest group at my school, I would very often find myself as the only woman. I know I’m not the only woman interested in radiology to experience this. A recent study of US medical students in their fourth year found that only 2.8% of women applied to radiology compared to 11.8% of men.1 Women are deterred by radiology’s perceived lack of direct patient contact, required physics knowledge, and long hours spent in dark rooms.2 I think there is a systemic component as well. I see relatively few women in radiology for the same reason my mother feels isolated in an engineering company and my sister struggles to find a female roommate for her computer science internship.

In 2012, Interventional Radiology become its own medical specialty through new DR/IR dual certificate programs. An even heavier emphasis has been placed on patient care and has the potential to reform stereotypes of the field as well as attract a different kind of trainee than in the past. As Dr. Martha-Gracia Knuttinen writes in her recent JACR article, “With the impending changes in the training algorithm, it is particularly important now to focus on the active recruitment of female medical students by dispelling preconceived notions of IR as a field that is inimical to women.”3 We can do this by showcasing the variety of women’s health issues treated by interventional radiologists including uterine fibroids, infertility, and breast cancer. We can also emphasize the meaningful social interactions, both physician-physician and patient-physician, required in interventional radiology. Finally, we need to address the exaggerated fears of radiation-induced infertility and connect women interested in the field to practicing mentors.

As over half of the existing DR/IR programs were approved this year, we are now within a unique window of opportunity to attract talented women to this new specialty. Interventional radiologists will be admitting patients, doing diagnostic work ups, and following up in outpatient clinics in addition to their procedural responsibilities. Patients will be seeing more of their radiologists than they ever have before. They will be expecting not just smart and capable- but also so nice.

1 Arleo EK, et al. 2016. “Surveying Fourth-Year Medical Students Regarding the Choice of Diagnostic Radiology as a Specialty.” Journal of the American College of Radiology. 13(2): 188-195.

2 Zener R, et al. 2016. “Women in Radiology: Exploring the Gender Disparity.” Journal of the American College of Radiology. 13(3):344-350.

3 Knuttinen MG. 2014. “Encouraging Women Into the New Diagnostic Radiology/Interventional Radiology Pathway.” Journal of the American College of Radiology. 11(12): 1106.