Study investigates medical student attitudes about specializing in radiology

April 2, 2007

Who says men and women naturally disagree? A survey of medical students, reported in the April issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology, found that men and women choose to specialize in radiology for many of the same reasons.

Who says men and women naturally disagree? A survey of medical students, reported in the April issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology, found that men and women choose to specialize in radiology for many of the same reasons.

Patient contact and intellectual stimulation ranked highly among all 250 male and female medical students surveyed by lead author Dr. Julia Fielding, chief of abdominal imaging at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and colleagues. Intellectual stimulation and use of emerging technology were very important for students choosing radiology. Lack of patient contact strongly dissuaded others from the specialty.

"Both men and women choose a specialty based on patient contact and intellectual stimulation," Fielding said. "This is a good thing. Students are going into medicine for the right reason: to take care of patients in a smart and effective way."

More than 90% of the men and women choosing radiology considered intellectual stimulation a deciding factor in selecting a specialty. Perceived job satisfaction of physicians in the field was also important, cited as a critical factor by 69.6% of men and 58.3% of women, while 39.1% of men and 41.7% of the women mentioned the use of emerging technology. More women (50%) ranked job flexibility as an important factor, compared with only 30.4% of men.

The major issue for both men and women who rejected radiology was lack of direct patient contact. More than 94% of respondents choosing other specialties ranked this the number one reason.

"There is some truth to this. We do spend many hours reading CT and MR scans. But many of us do interventional procedures, including breast biopsy, angiography, and tumor therapy," Fielding said.

The authors suggest that medical schools should expose students to patient interaction opportunities within radiology and encourage women to apply for radiology residencies

The findings were borne out in interviews with medical students. UNC Chapel Hill radiology resident Nacieye Turan has learned that radiologists are essential to patient care, without directly caring for patients, after initially considering lack of patient contact a drawback.

"I felt like this took away from feeling like a complete doctor," she said. "However, the further I get in my training, the more I realize that radiologists need a strong clinical mindset. Sometimes we are the first to solve a complex problem, and that is very rewarding from a medical standpoint."

Problem-solving also appealed to Dr. Saadia Chaudhary, a radiology resident at the University of California, San Francisco, which defies national statistics with slightly more women radiology residents than men.

"It was the process of putting the pieces of the puzzle together that was most interesting to me," she said.

Although there was no significant difference between men and women in ranking factors that dissuaded them from applying to radiology residencies, almost one-third of women cited competitiveness of the residency process as important, a result that surprised lead Fielding. She undertook this study because of evidence showing a recent downturn in the number of women entering radiology.

"All medical disciplines benefit from diversity, whether it be by gender or race," she said. "I have found that diverse medical practices are more interesting places to work because of the variety of viewpoints expressed."