Caregiver stereotype plagues female med students

November 30, 2005

While women choose radiology for intellectual stimulation and job satisfaction, they consistently have to overcome the stereotype of the nurturing caregiver, according to survey results presented Monday.

While women choose radiology for intellectual stimulation and job satisfaction, they consistently have to overcome the stereotype of the nurturing caregiver, according to survey results presented Monday.

Medical student Ellie Pack and colleagues at New Jersey Medical School queried by mail 1203 female radiology residents in the U.S. They asked for the opinions the residents held about radiology as they were making a specialty choice.

While malpractice concerns ranked high on the designed survey, a surprise finding came in unsolicited written comments. Respondents wrote that they had been consistently chided by family, friends, and attendings for entering a specialty that wouldn't take advantage of their "bubbly" personality.

One respondent wrote that others told her she would be wasting herself in radiology because she is so good with people. Another comment posited that societal pressure - spoken and unspoken - insists that female physicians should be first and foremost caregivers.

"During medical school, female students were very strongly encouraged to pursue primary care or other poorly compensated fields," one respondent wrote. "People would say that such and such is a good specialty for women. But I never once heard such restrictive advice for my male colleagues."

This attitude appeared pervasive among respondents who chose to add additional comments to the survey, Pack said.

"It was a revelation to us," she said.

The designed survey garnered a 34% response rate. Most responses to other topics were evenly divided between being major concerns and not. These categories included accommodations for different stages of motherhood, the perceived male-dominated culture of the specialty, radiation exposure, and contact with mentors.

"Interestingly, respondents who did have a female mentor during medical school were less concerned with the male-dominated culture during residency than those who did not," Pack said.

A majority of respondents in Pack's survey viewed limited patient interaction as an attraction rather than a deterrent, with only 32% expressing misgivings about this matter. But the lack of patient interaction plays a major role for those who do not choose radiology as a career, according to another study by Dr. Julia Fielding and colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In a survey mailed to third- and fourth-year medical students, Fielding and colleagues garnered a 58% response rate (nearly evenly split between men and women). Slightly more than half of respondents did not consider radiology a possible career (54 females and 42 males). Of this group, 51 women and 41 men reported lack of direct patient contact as the most important factor in deciding against radiology.

Fielding noted one-third of female respondents found radiology too competitive. She suggested early meetings with medical students to impress upon them that radiology is an attainable career.

The 22% of students who had chosen radiology as their career (10 female, 19 male) cited intellectual stimulation and job satisfaction as the most important factors for their choice.

"In order to attract high-caliber students, and particularly women, medical students should be exposed to those areas of radiology involving patient interaction such as pediatrics, mammography, and interventional procedures," Fielding said.

She also said that students should be exposed to radiology earlier in their schooling, before rumors of competitiveness and other radiology myths take hold.