RSNA 2017: Diversity a key contributor to excellence in radiology

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Compared to other medical specialties, radiology is struggling to attract diversity in its workforce in the United States.

According to the Diversity in Medical Education 2016 Facts & Figures Report, published by the Association of American Medical Colleges, less than 6 percent of 2015’s medical school graduates were black, and less than 5 percent were Hispanic. Though the industry is making strides toward improving inclusiveness, much is left to be done, according to Johnson Lightfoote, MD, MBA, of Pomona Valley Imaging Group in California, during a presentation at RSNA 2017 in Chicago.

“African Americans, Latinos and the native population are underrepresented in medicine in comparison with their population’s representation,” Lightfoote told Radiology Business. “That means our available supply of medical students going into radiology is by definition already limited. We start from a leaky pipeline and the pool of medical students is smaller than it should be. Over and above that, radiology suffers a greater under-underrepresentation within medical practice.”

Understanding the problem

Lightfoote, also the chair of the American College of Radiology (ACR) committee for diversity and inclusion, points out that many aspiring physicians of color decide to pursue medicine to  serve their communities, but they do not perceive radiology as being a service-oriented profession or specialty. Minorities also tend to be exposed to radiology less frequently during medical school. Black and Hispanic individuals, specifically, tend to prefer medical schools that do not have post-graduate training program.

“Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have post graduate training programs in radiology,” Lightfoote said. “But if you go to Meharry Medical College or Howard College of Medicine, which historically have provided medical education to people of color, they do not have such programs. Exposure to a discipline like radiology is limited therefore the understanding of radiology as a practice is limited.”

Black and Hispanic students also tend to not test as well in the science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) fields and tend to be “STEM-shy,” Lightfoote explained. Because radiology is thought to be a technical specialty, the perception is that radiology is a specialty not worth pursuing. Due to an underexposure to radiology, they end up having misunderstandings about the specialty as a whole.

Noting the solutions

What can be done to resolve this problem? It starts with exposure, Lightfoote explained.

The ACR, for example, recently created a program in conjunction with Nth Dimensions called the PIER (Pipeline Initiative for Enrichment of Radiology) Summer Internship program that gives five “adopted” medical students early exposure to radiology. The purpose is for students of color to better understand radiology by spending the summer with a well-respected academic radiologist. The PIER Interns prepare a research paper that helps them further delve into radiology, they learn to “speak” radiology and understand that radiologists are contributors to their local communities.

Mentorship is another possible solution to the growing problem, Lightfoote added. “Find a student or person you think has potential and bring him or her along,” he said. “Mentoring is so effective, and it is gratifying for the mentor because the mentee is so grateful.”

It’s not just about color

“The other thing about diversity is that it’s not just about ethnicity,” Lightfoote said. “It is gender, sexual preference, age and even career stage.”

America is quickly turning into a majority minority nation, he explained, and it will be critical for the healthcare industry in particular to have a variety of practitioners that are part of a variety of communities and stages in life and career.

Additionally, multinational corporations and major businesses and enterprises, including state, federal and international governments, think it’s important to have diversity in the workplace to enhance performance. Various business studies have shown a diverse team performs better than a uniformed, homogeneous team in a variety of tasks, including complex tasks.

“Research has shown many patients do better when they have somebody in their community that looks or thinks like them,” Lightfoote said. “As we move toward more patient-centered care, not just in radiology, but in all specialties, we need to be able to get in the same place as the patient.”