Changing attitudes bring positive impact to China

August 26, 2008

Prof. Xiaowing Wang, 37, is director of the radiology department at the Peking University First Hospital. The 1368-bed hospital in Beijing treats nearly 5000 outpatients and emergency cases each day and admits over 25,000 patients annually. The hospital has 3069 full-time staff, including 1227 nurses, and the radiology department has 3T MR and 64-slice CT systems.

 

Prof. Xiaowing Wang, 37, is director of the radiology department at the Peking University First Hospital. The 1368-bed hospital in Beijing treats nearly 5000 outpatients and emergency cases each day and admits over 25,000 patients annually. The hospital has 3069 full-time staff, including 1227 nurses, and the radiology department has 3T MR and 64-slice CT systems.

Prof. Wang's own subspecialty is body MRI. In this question-and-answer interview, she reflects on how Chinese radiology and society in general are evolving.

Diagnostic Imaging: Across Europe, radiologists are noticing the growing predominance of women in radiology and more generally in medicine. In Austria, for instance, the proportion of female radiology trainees is currently 60%. In most countries, however, women are still underrepresented in the profession, and the higher the position, the rarer they are. How does this situation compare with China?

Wang: In my department, the number of female doctors is 15, which is equal to the male doctors. We have five subspecialty groups: chest, abdomen, neuro, musculoskeletal, and pelvis. The female and male radiologists are distributed evenly in these groups, but the leadership is taken mainly by men.

DI: In professional life and in science especially, many women observe the existence of "a glass ceiling" blocking their access to top positions. Do you think this is also the case in radiology?

Wang: Absolutely, yes.

DI: Have you ever been confronted with that situation? Likewise, have you ever experienced sexism at work?

Wang: Yes. Fourteen years ago, when I was interviewed by the former chair of our radiology department with my male competitor, the director said he would always assign priority to the male candidate. Fortunately, they had two positions at that time, so I got the offer. But I believe this scene is acted out at many hospitals and will continue to do so for a long time.

DI: According to the president of the Chinese Society of Radiology (CSR), Prof. Yin, you are one of the most promising radiologists in your country. Do you think your situation, as a woman, is unique in China? Do you represent a new generation of female radiologists in your country?

Wang: I'm not special in China. More and more female radiologists are demonstrating their talents in research, taking the leadership of their radiology departments, and being admitted by the radiological association.

DI: Currently, only two of the 49 members of the CSR National Committee are women. How do you explain this imbalance?

Wang: The CSR committee members were elected by the older generation. Maybe next time, there will be more women elected as members.

DI: For numerous working women, balancing private and professional lives is a major issue, especially when children are involved. A pragmatic solution seems to be more flexibility in working hours. Do you think China offers women the flexibility they need to efficiently manage work and home? If not, is work flexibility a point of debate in Chinese society?

Wang: Before a baby is one year old, the mother is allowed to work seven hours every day, so one hour less than usual. Actually, in my hospital, people are sometimes not so strict with the mothers. There is no official regulation on the flexibility in working hours for them, but colleagues are willing to help if the mother really has to go home earlier or go out for a while for the children. I think work flexibility should be debated in Chinese society in the future; it is not practical now.

DI: How aware are your male peers of the double challenge that female radiologists face when they are mothers?

Wang: In China, both male and female radiologists are responsible for their family and children. But, generally, mothers take more time to cope with the daily family life. I think most male doctors understand and are supportive.

DI: Do you know male radiologists who slow down their careers in order to spend more time with their family?

Wang: Yes, there are some of them. Personally, I agree with them.

DI: Do you have children? If so, how well do you balance your life between home and work?

Wang: Yes, I have a lovely daughter. It is so hard to balance life between home and work. I spend less time with her than I should. I feel sorry for my daughter.

DI: Do you think it is important for women to have role models?

Wang: Yes, of course. It is very important for female doctors to have female models in their profession.

DI: Do you think women have a different approach to radiology, particularly involving treatments specific to female patients, such as uterine fibroid embolization?

Wang: Yes, it is true that female patients will feel more comfortable being examined by women doctors and discussing breast and gynecological diseases with them.

DI: As far as you know, are there any official or unofficial networks of female radiologists/physicians in China or elsewhere in Asia? If not, do you think such an organisation would be necessary or useful?

Wang: I remember that CSR unofficially established a female radiologist association several years ago. But I don't know of any action they took. As for the usefulness of this type of network, it depends on the practical actions that will be taken.

Ms. Rouger works as a contributing writer on the European Congress of Radiology's newspaper, ECR Today, published daily during the ECR. She is based at the European Society of Radiology's offices in Vienna. Her interview originally appeared in the ECR Today's edition of 8 March 2008.