Female authorship in academic radiology journals on the rise, but losing momentum

The number of female radiologists publishing articles in academic journals jumped significantly from 1970 to 2000, but that trend has slowed down in recent years, according to a new study published in Academic Radiology.

“Publication of original research in peer-reviewed scientific journals is an important objective measure of academic productivity,” wrote lead author Erin E. O'Connor, MD, with the department of radiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, and colleagues. “Author placement also has implications for accountability and allocation of credit and can be used in determining worthiness for promotion, allocated research time, and research funding.”

O'Connor et al. reviewed “original basic science and clinical research articles” from Radiology and the American Journal of Roentgenology (AJR) in the years 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2013-2016. In total, they identified more than 1,800 female first authors, more than 1,500 female last authors and more than 1,400 female corresponding authors who were published in Radiology. They also identified more than 1,800 female first authors, more than 1,600 female last authors and more than 1,800 female corresponding authors in AJR.

From 1970 to 2016, first authorship among female authors jumped 31 percent in Radiology and more than 32 percent in AJR. In fact, linear increases were noted in the number of “first, corresponding and senior authorships” for female radiologists, but that growth slowed down for first and corresponding authors beginning in 2000. O'Connor et al. wrote that this may, at least, partially, be a result of a similar plateau currently hitting female radiology faculty promotion.

The study did find that, unlike first and corresponding authors, the proportion of last authors is still rising in radiology journals at a consistent rate. The authors suggested that this means “there might be a ‘pipeline’ phenomenon at work.”

“Under this account, the reduced growth in female first authorship may result from a temporally coincident decrease in the numbers of women entering radiology training programs,” the authors wrote. “This possible mechanism is supported by our finding that female first authorship is linearly related to female faculty proportion over the entire study period. The continued rise in female last authorship may reflect the continuing progression of female faculty from junior to more senior positions of the type more commonly associated with last authorship.”

These authorship statistics are important for numerous reasons, O’Connor and colleagues explained.

“Authorship can profoundly influence career trajectory in academic radiology,” the authors wrote. “Moreover, academic productivity can profoundly influence decisions regarding faculty recruitment, hiring, and promotion. In addition, recent evidence suggests that salary determinations for medical school faculty can be influenced by publication productivity.”

Also, gender diversity can be directly linked to journal articles having a bigger impact. Articles with mixed gender authorship teams saw an increase in citations of 6.9 percent for each additional author compared to the authors all being a single gender.

“Because female radiologists make scientific contributions to the radiology literature in proportions that parallel the proportion of full-time female academic radiology faculty, one policy implication of these findings may be that encouraging more women to enter academic radiology careers may be the most efficient means of increasing the amount of radiology research authored by women, thereby building more productive gender-heterogeneous problem-solving teams in radiology departments,” the authors concluded.