The COVID-19 Effect: Implications for Female Radiologist Publications

Whitney J. Palmer

A year-long pandemic has not resulted in the feared decline of female-authored publications, but challenges still exist.

Despite initial fears, the rate at which female radiologists published articles has not experienced a downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic. Publication rates remained steady between 2018 and 2020.

But, while this is good news, it does not signal that men and women are publishing at equal rates in the field, according to industry experts. Women are still under-represented as authors in medical imaging, said a group of researchers from France in an article published on March 16 in Radiology.

“One in three first authors and one in five last authors were female in 2018-2019 and 2020,” said the team led by Elske Quak, M.D., nuclear medicine physician from the Comprehensive Cancer Center François Baclesse in France. “While the first 2020 lockdown did not dimmish the quantity of female publications, the impact upon the quality was variable.”

Although the number of women in medicine continues to grow – and the number of women in medical school has now tipped past 50 percent – the narrative around being a female physician has not changed, the team said. Women still have many of the same challenges as their predecessors – few female mentors, gender biases in recruitment, maternal stereotyping and discrimination, and an overall male-dominated culture.

Concerns over these challenges intensified in the early days of the pandemic, they explained.

“This is due to an unbalanced division of work, as females still perform the majority of household chores and care work, even in developed countries perceived as gender-egalitarian,” they said. “As schools and daycare facilities closed in many countries during the first COVID-19 related lockdown, the pandemic might thus eventually affect female career advancement, as the number and quality of publications in peer-reviewed journals one has authored are essential.”

To get a better idea of the pandemic’s impact, Quak’s team conducted a bibliometric analysis of first and last-author gender of papers published in the top 50 medical imaging journals between March 2020 and May 2020, totaling 2,480 papers, as well as 2018 and 2019, 2,238 papers and 2,355 papers, respectively. The majority of publications with female first authors came from Europe (38 percent), North America (33.1 percent), and Asia (23.5 percent). Overall, first and last authorship positions are the most highly regarded.

However, while these number assuaged fears, showing the pandemic did not have the feared impact on female-authored publication, the gender gap in medical imaging publications still exists and is still substantial, said a team led by Jessica Robbins, M.D., vice chair of faculty development and enrichment at the University of Wisconsin. And, with publication being integral to career advancement, the number of women in senior ranking positions continues to lag.

“Gender-asymmetric delayed impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on scholarly productivity could stymie the progress to date of females in higher ranks in academic radiology,” said Robbins’ team in an accompanying editorial. “As the discipline of radiology, we have an obligation to remain vigilant in our quest for equality, diversity, and inclusion in academic productivity to ensure representation from all radiologists.”

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