COVID-19 Opens Door for Women to Assume More Influential Roles in Radiology

Navigating the need for new workflow strategies and protocols has revealed opportunities for women to take on more leadership roles.

The past few months have been a stressful time for radiologists as the industry has moved and shifted to accommodate patients in a new way. The move to work from home, practice social distancing, and maximize disinfection efforts, has created a need for new workflow methods and protocols and has opened the door for women in radiology to assume greater leadership roles. Recently, Diagnostic Imaging spoke with Dr. Tessa Cook, assistant professor of radiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In our conversation, she shared her thoughts on how female radiologists are tackling these opportunities head on, as well as how providers can best support each other during a particularly trying time.

Cook: Thank you, Whitney, happy to join you.

Palmer: Thank you so much. It is a very abnormal time. Is it possible that there are opportunities for women in radiology to assume more positions of leadership or influential roles given the change from what had been the norm in radiology to this new norm of radiology?

Cook: I absolutely think so. I think so much of how we practice radiology and practice medicine is evolving actively. It has been evolving in the last couple of months, just as needs have changed. And, it requires a lot of creativity and a lot of thinking outside the box. Ideas that were in the past were acknowledged, but, then, were sort of put aside because, “We don't really need that. I mean, it's nice to have, but we don't really need that.” All of a sudden, there are new needs, and there are new requirements, and there are new constraints on how we deliver care.

And so, absolutely, I think there are so many opportunities out there for women to step up into leadership roles and put these ideas forward. Show your creativity and really innovate and try new things. I'll give you an example from our practice. There are two residents that have been working on a project to improve the outpatient radiology experience. Everything from the things that are sort of taken care of already, such as here's where we're located, and here's how you get there. This is your appointment time and all those sort of logistical things. But, to give patients a little bit more of a sense of what they will experience when they actually get to the imaging center. You know, here's the changing room, here's what it looks like, here's what you might expect to do. Here's how you should dress for your exam. Here's how long you might expect to wait. Things that you might want to know about the particular exam and exactly how you're going to experience it.

So, we had toyed with some asynchronous modes of communication with patients prior to COVID in relationship to this project, and now, here we are with a very big need for asynchronous communication with patients as we try to re-open our outpatient centers, get people in safely, make them feel comfortable, and reassure them that we really are doing our best to keep them safe. Those ideas, which may have met a little more resistance pre-COVID because they were a “nice-to-have,” but not a “need-to-have,” have suddenly become a need-to-have.

I think there's so many examples of that out there. We should really look at the ways that we can deliver better care with all of these new constraints on our practices.

Palmer: Forward thinking, what are some lessons learned perhaps from this experience with the pandemic when it comes to either greater gender equality in the profession or the understanding of a greater need to support each other and build on each other's strengths on how to provide the best care?

Cook: I think supporting each other becomes absolutely critical. This has been an extremely difficult time for so many people, both professionally and personally. And, I think it's made us all aware that we need to be a little bit more in tune to the other stressors that people may have -- the other constraints on people's times.

One thing that has certainly come out of this is everybody's sort of taken a second thought to whether a meeting is really necessary. We’re starting to exam is an email would really be okay in certain situations. I think we've really started to appreciate that there are other constraints on what makes people successful. And in some cases, some of that has been alleviated with people being at home. In other cases, it's actually made it harder for people to be productive and stay on task because now there are all of these other people and potential demands on your time and your energy. I think from that perspective, it's really important to be mindful of that.

We've also learned to find our communities. I am part of a number of women physician communities for different aspects of who I am as a woman physician. I'm part of a group of radiology women online and part of a group of local physician moms. I'm part of a group of physician women that believes in lifting each other up and empowering each other and encouraging people to pursue their dreams. I think we've all learned the importance of having that support system and having those communities especially now when things have gotten really challenging.

Palmer: Wonderful, Dr. Cook. I appreciate your taking the time this afternoon.

Cook:  Thank you so much. Always nice to chat with you, Whitney.