Caregiver stereotype plagues female radiology residents

April 2, 2006

While women choose radiology for intellectual stimulation and job satisfaction, they consistently have to overcome the stereotype of the nurturing caregiver. Physicians, as well as friends, have told potential radiology students that their outgoing personalities are incongruent with radiology.

While women choose radiology for intellectual stimulation and job satisfaction, they consistently have to overcome the stereotype of the nurturing caregiver. Physicians, as well as friends, have told potential radiology students that their outgoing personalities are incongruent with radiology.

Medical student Ellie Pack and colleagues at New Jersey Medical School queried by mail 1203 female radiology residents in the U.S. (34% response rate). They asked for opinions the residents held about radiology as they were making a specialty choice. They presented their findings at the 2005 RSNA meeting.

While malpractice concerns ranked high on the survey, a surprise finding came from unsolicited written comments. Respondents wrote they were consistently chided by family, friends, and attending physicians for entering a specialty that wouldn't take advantage of their "bubbly" personality, with comments such as, "You would be wasting yourself in radiology because you're so good with people." Survey respondents also wrote that:

- Female students are strongly encouraged to pursue primary care or other poorly compensated fields; and

- Societal pressure insists that female physicians should be first and foremost caregivers.

"This attitude appeared pervasive among respondents who chose to add additional comments to the survey," Pack said. "It was a revelation to us."

Other survey topics included accommodations for different stages of motherhood, the perceived male-dominated culture of the specialty, radiation exposure, and contact with mentors. A majority of respondents 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 presented at the meeting by researchers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Dr. Julia Fielding and colleagues mailed a survey to third- and fourth-year medical students at five different schools, garnering a 58% response rate. Slightly more than half of the respondents (evenly split between men and women) decided against radiology because of the lack of patient contact.

"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.

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. She also said that students should be exposed to radiology earlier in their schooling, before rumors of competitiveness and other radiology myths take hold. Students who chose radiology as their career (22%) cited intellectual stimulation and job satisfaction as the most important factors in their choice.