In Her Words: RSNA’s New President Outlines Priorities, Discusses Challenges, and Shares Vision

Whitney J. Palmer

Mary C. Mahoney, M.D., the new president for the Radiology Society of North America offers her insights into what awaits radiology and the role the Society will play in continuing the specialty to grow, expand, and improve.

With the beginning of 2021, the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) is also starting fresh. This month, the international Society welcomed its new president, Mary C. Mahoney, M.D.

Mahoney, who is Benjamin Felson Endowed Chair and Professor of Radiology at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine, has already indicated that international engagement and collaboration to find solutions in medical imaging will be a pillar of her term in office.

But, Diagnostic Imaging wanted to know more. This week, we spoke with Mahoney, not only about her push for a more global focus in the specialty, but also about her other priorities for RSNA, where she sees the Society’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the challenges that might lie ahead.

Diagnostic Imaging: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, what do you anticipate the role for radiology will be in addressing healthcare challenges and needs going forward? What part do you see RSNA playing?

Mahoney: Radiology has played a significant role in COVID-19 diagnostics and patient management, particularly early on when RT-PCR tests were scarce, and hospitals relied on CT and X-ray to diagnose the presence and severity of disease. Going forward, imaging will be needed to further characterize COVID-19 and elucidate the long-term complications stemming from infection.

As the leading organization for radiologic research and education, RSNA recognizes its responsibility to provide guidance and education to assist radiologists in addressing the ongoing pandemic. Since the beginning, we have been connecting radiologists and the radiology community to the most timely and useful COVID-19 information and resources free of charge. In addition to publishing timely research and education content, we have established two COVID-19 volunteer task forces to equip radiologists around the world with the tools they need to navigate this public health crisis.

Diagnostic Imaging: Outside of COVID-19, what are your priorities this year as the incoming president of the RSNA?

Mahoney: As RSNA president, I will continue to support the Society’s mission of promoting excellence in patient care and the Society’s goal of fostering diversity, equity and inclusion in radiology leadership and practice. It is critical that we promote diversity in radiology leadership, academics and programming.

One of my priorities is to ensure that RSNA provides an equitable and inclusive membership experience that reflects our diverse community and serves the needs of all of our members. By mitigating unconscious bias and embracing different perspectives, we strengthen our specialty and enhance the quality of care we provide to our patients. Another priority is bringing greater awareness to the critical role radiology plays in health care. Imagine going back to a system where clinicians had to treat patients with no CTs, no MRIs, no X-rays. Radiologists make a vital contribution to every facet of medical care every day, reducing the need for invasive exploratory surgeries, improving early detection and saving lives.

Diagnostic Imaging: Global collaboration is becoming increasingly important – how is RSNA making an impact throughout the world? What efforts are in the pipeline?

Mahoney: Collaboration has led to some of our most successful and high-profile patient-centered programs. RadiologyInfo.org, the patient-focused website co-sponsored by RSNA and the American College of Radiology (ACR) for more than 20 years, has been phenomenally successful with an average of 2 million visitors per month worldwide. 

Last year, RSNA, ACR and the American Association of Physicists in Medicine began working together to develop the new Medical Imaging and Data Resource Center (MIDRC), an open-source database with medical images from thousands of COVID-19 patients around the world. In creating MIDRC, we hope to help doctors better understand, diagnose, monitor and treat COVID-19. The initial data sets are now coming online. The project is funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and the database is hosted at the University of Chicago; so we’re seeing collaboration across multiple organizations and individuals to address this global concern.

In 2019, RSNA launched the Global Learning Centers (GLC) program. By partnering with established radiology departments in low- or middle-income countries to create these learning centers, RSNA aims to improve radiology education and patient care around the world. The latest GLC, announced last fall, will be hosted by Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) in Tanzania. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the GLC will help fulfill the growing need in Sub-Saharan Africa for training in radiology.

Initiatives like these, which leverage the strengths of each of the partnering organizations, will prove valuable to fostering global knowledge exchange and advancing our specialty in the years to come.

Diagnostic Imaging: More voices in the industry are calling for a greater emphasis on diversity and inclusivity in the profession. How can RSNA further these goals?

Mahoney: As I mentioned, this is a priority for RSNA. Inclusion is one of RSNA’s core values. The Society’s strategic plan includes the crucial goal of promoting diverse representation within the profession and ensuring diversity in RSNA leadership. The RSNA Board has long held the belief that a diverse representation of volunteers and leaders can best serve the organization, the profession and, ultimately, our patients.

With this commitment to diversity in mind, the Board requires that all committee chairs and vice chairs, editorial board members, and other Society volunteers serving in a selection or program planning role participate in unconscious bias training. RSNA committee leaders and program planners are expected to seek out volunteers and faculty that are representative of the profession in dimensions, such as gender, age, race/ethnicity, locations/regions, practice type and subspecialty.

With this ongoing commitment to diversity, the number of women holding RSNA leadership and volunteer positions outpaces the demographics of the U.S. radiologist population. I am proud to be the eighth woman to lead the Society as president. Currently, 57 percent of RSNA committee chairs are women.

To improve diversity and inclusiveness throughout our specialty, RSNA formed the Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to evaluate RSNA activities, identify gaps, and set recommendations for raising awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion in the profession. The committee is also charged with promoting outreach and mentorship and identifying resources for developing strategies and disseminating best practices. RSNA 2020 offered several well received sessions on the topic. Last summer, RSNA produced an excellent webinar looking at how the gender gap in professional advancement and productivity was impacted by circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

Diagnostic Imaging: What potential challenges do you foresee this year both for radiologists and for the industry overall, and how can the profession meet these obstacles?

Mahoney: The past year gave rise to unforeseen challenges to radiologists and to the entire health care system. But it also taught us how adaptable we could be. Across North America and throughout the world, health care providers stepped up to the challenge. Understaffed and overburdened, radiologists innovated and adapted their practices to continue to deliver high-quality, safe care to their patients. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re better prepared for the new challenges that await us.

The pandemic also laid bare the enormous health disparity issues we face. We need to come up with solutions to improve access and close the gap on bias and inequities in health care. Education is an important component. Artificial intelligence also offers us an array of tools to assist in addressing this challenge, so that we may provide the best possible care to every patient.

Diagnostic Imaging: Ultimately, what would you offer as your vision for radiology in the coming years?

Mahoney: What the pandemic experience has taught us is that it is more critical than ever to come together to share ideas, learn from each other and foster a sense of community within our specialty.

We can take the lessons learned from this challenging year and use them to advance new methods and new technologies that strengthen our community and our profession.

The theme for RSNA 2021 is “Redefining Radiology.” We must redefine how we practice, to offer optimal, equitable care to every patient. We must redefine how we educate, to expand quality radiology training to the far reaches of the world. And we must redefine how we live and work, to embrace a wide variety of perspectives and experiences at all levels through collaboration, built on a foundation of inclusiveness and diversity.

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