Female Radiologists & COVID-19

June 1, 2020

American College of Radiology President Geraldine McGinty, M.D., MBA, FACR, discusses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on female radiologists and their colleagues.

For more than two months, radiology as a whole has been impacted in a variety of ways by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an outbreak that has touched every hospital department, every practice, and every imaging center. But it is safe to say that not every radiologist has experienced this situation in the same way.

Geraldine McGinty, M.D., MBA, FACR, president of the American College of Radiology, talked with Diagnostic Imaging about how this pandemic has affected female radiologists differently than their male counterparts. What challenges have they faced, and how they've been impacted by those challenges? In what ways are female radiologists perhaps uniquely suited to assume greater leadership roles during this time? And what lessons can the industry learn from this experience about gender equality in this specialty?

Diagnostic Imaging:  If you could, walk us through the professional challenges that female radiologists have faced during the pandemic.

Geraldine McGinty: I think those professional challenges really cross all genders. Figuring out how to manage working from home, possibly for the first time, figuring out all the challenges of childcare, and, if you have an administrative role, navigating all of those Zoom calls. Then, also, trying to maintain all of the other work that was fitted around your clinical practice, especially if you have an academic career.

Diagnostic Imaging: Specifically, what impacts have those challenges had, and how have they touched on the female radiologists’ ability to practice at a high level in this current situation?

McGinty: I do want to first of all acknowledge that there are definitely radiologists who are at the frontlines. I've been so humbled to see, actually in many cases, our trainees being redeployed and pulling out their clinical skills to deliver care in the ICU. Let's just be clear that radiologists have been contributing in many ways.

But, let's talk about the more routine clinical practice. First of all, there are the challenges of getting set up from home and changing to navigate the demands of the day between figuring out homeschooling and a significant other who's also trying to work from home. But, there's definitely data on some of the areas where there may be a real impact. You may have noticed the Nature article that talks about the fact that women are uploading fewer articles to preprint servers, and there's a sense that their research is taking a second place to all of the other things that they're trying to get done. So, that's one thing I think we're going to want to be really aware of. I know my own institution has stopped the tenure clock for some time, and I'd like to make sure that we're not going to disadvantage women as we come out of this pandemic because they have, perhaps, had to put other responsibilities first.

Diagnostic Imaging: There was also a study that came out, looking at the differences in how female and male radiologists are handling video conferencing. What are some of the issues that have bubbled up in looking at that particular situation?

McGinty: I've read a lot of that research, too. There's no doubt that we women are sometimes harder on ourselves. We’re worried about how we look on the video conferencing. For example, I have a virtual background just make sure I don't have to think about what's behind me. I think, at this point, we've all adapted. Having your kid or your pet to join your video call is pretty much normal now.

I will say, in my own department, we've been doing twice a week video calls with our chair. The goal has been for everyone to have a chance to talk about what this means to them. To talk about how they're coping. It's really important that we acknowledge that this is not perfect. This is not normal. We have to cut ourselves some slack and be kind to each other.

Diagnostic Imaging: We've talked a great deal about the professional challenges. What about some of the personal ones? How are women necessarily feeling this differently than their male counterparts?

McGinty: I don't know that I can really speak to that in a particularly informed way. There have certainly been news articles out there about how male parents think that they're doing great with helping with the education, and their female partners don't necessarily agree. I'm not a mom, so I'm not going to weigh in on that. But, what I will say is that I've seen a huge amount of connection and solidarity among our entire radiology community -- certainly a lot of programming from our Radiology Leadership Institute from the American Association for Women in Radiology to help support each other through this time and to help us make sure that we protect time to exercise and have time for self-care.

Diagnostic Imaging: What are some of the strategies and actions that the industry as a whole can do to help both female and male radiologists rise to the to the top of their abilities during this time?

McGinty: It really does start at the top. It starts at the organizational level. And, I think that for an organization like the ACR to really commit to wellness, as a key strategic initiative and make sure that we have programming and tools out there, it’s really important because it says that, as a community, we've decided this is worth the investment of our time and resources. If we take it all the way to the individual level, it's about checking in on each other. Just a quick note that says, “How are you doing? Is there anything I can help you with?” But also, for some of us who aren't necessarily as burdened as others with things like childcare, it's about taking the opportunity to reach out to a med student who's interested in radiology but who's been furloughed or sent home. You can ask if there is a project they’d like your help with so we can actually keep connections going, building on them and not losing so much momentum during this time.

Diagnostic Imaging: Even though there are a myriad of challenges, are there ways in which female radiologists can take this opportunity to assume greater leadership roles within their own institutions or exert more influence?

McGinty: My ACR report to the Council was very impacted by an interview that I read with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in which he said that each of us has to say to ourselves, “What does this crisis ask of me?” I think we should be thinking about how we can contribute -- and whether that's being on the frontlines in the ICU doing things that you're not necessarily comfortable with, or whether it's checking in with colleagues. It could be finding the time to actually write about the experience. Our impact can be varied. But, each of us has to think about what we can do.

Now, that said, you have to be very aware that with working remotely, that's not a perfect situation. This can really impact Imposter Syndrome. And, it can, actually, compound and make it feel worse. “I'm not in the department. I'm not being seen at meetings. I’m struggling to manage all my responsibilities.” So, again, as a community, we have to be caring. We have to realize that, I hope, this is temporary -- that this is not normal -- and not worry too much if we haven't made a major contribution, as we see it, in the short term.

Diagnostic Imaging: Looking into the post-COVID environment, then, what are some of the lessons this experience has taught the industry about making sure that there is an equal opportunity and chance for female radiologists to contribute to the highest level?

McGinty: I think many practices made a significant shift to home reading much more quickly than they thought that they ever could and much more comprehensively than they thought they ever could. Now, I think a lot of us miss the interaction. I've still been doing some clinical work, and I absolutely love my day on campus. I think we’re realizing that we can be much more individual in terms of how we like to work How can we accommodate your life and make sure that you're a successful radiologist at the same time? I think finding that ability to be more nuanced, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all, is something that we've all learned.

Diagnostic Imaging: Stepping back to an overall view, and thinking from either an anecdotal or a data-driven perspective, is there anything else that the community needs to know about how this pandemic is affecting radiologists in different ways that we should really point out?

McGinty: I think there are some clear challenges for our radiology community. Having made the very appropriate decision to pull back on non-essential imaging, we're going to see practices really struggling financially, especially those practices in small and rural areas who are not only significant caregivers in their communities, but also significant employers. So, this is going to be a challenge. We all worry, at this point, about delaying life-saving screening exams much longer. We're all struggling to think about how we can get back to normal as quickly as possible, but as safely as possible. I'm very proud of the guidance the ACR has provided, but I think to recognize the value of imaging, it's important that we also recognize that the imaging we were doing was valuable and will remain valuable. We have to make sure that we preserve that access for our patients.

Diagnostic Imaging: Dr. McGinty, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I greatly appreciate it.

McGinty: Thank you very much for having me.