Survey: 47% of female interventional radiologists experienced sexual harassment during practice

New survey results published in the American Journal of Roentgenology suggest there is gender bias in intervention radiology (IR), and it affects women throughout their entire career. 

“From this research, evidence-based interventions can be implemented to help level the playing field for all,” wrote authors Meridith J. Englander, MD, of the Albany Medical Center Hospital in New York and Susan K. O’Horo, MD, of the Boston Medical Center in Massachusetts.

The researchers sought to delve into the experiences of women in IR today—how gender influences a woman’s career within IR and their opinions on measures needed make IR more gender equitable.

The survey was issued through a post on the Women in Interventional Radiology page of the members-only forum for the Society of Interventional Radiology. The survey consisted of 62 items, including demographics, marital and parental status, training experiences, relationships with coworkers and patients and career achievements and goals.

A total of 99 surveys were completed. Englander and O’Horo reviewed the surveys and analyzed responses for trends—specifically, in family life, pregnancy, gender bias, discrimination, sexual harassment and career development. The most noteworthy findings were found for gender bias, discrimination and sexual harassment.

About 43 percent of respondents were discouraged from pursuing a career in interventional radiology due to family/lifestyle conflicts and radiation exposure, among other things. About one-third of trainees and one-half of total respondents reported experiencing some type of discrimination. Also, 91 percent of respondents were mistaken for a nurse—perhaps further encouraging the myth that surgery is a man’s playing field.

“Every female interventional radiologist has to work to be identified as the physician in the room,” the authors wrote. “It is a common experience that patients or even referring physicians will assume that the man in the room, not the woman, is the attending physician even if he is a nurse, medical student, or junior trainee.”

More than half of the females surveyed noted they are treated differently than their male colleagues, including partners, nurses and technologists.

Shockingly, 47 percent of respondents noted they experienced sexual harassment during practice and 22 percent of women respondents said they experienced sexual harassment during training. Only 18 percent of women reported their experiences. Survey respondents noted that they sensed no one would take them seriously or were afraid of a negative impact on their training or career. Those who did report the harassment were outcast by colleagues or felt their complaints were “disregarded." In addition, lawsuits that came as a result of reported harassment would require that the women could not discuss their experience.

“Although sexual harassment is something experienced by women in all fields of medicine, these data are based on current women interventional radiologists and trainees,” the authors wrote. “This is not from the past. This is not in some other specialty. This is us.”

The researchers added that more research is needed to better understand gender bias in IR and the impact it has on female interventional radiologists during their training and career. Upon further analysis, evidence-based interventions may be implemented to ensure equity between men and women IR physicians. 

“Women are committed to and passionate about IR,” Englander and O’Horo concluded. “IR needs women to succeed so that the field can continue to thrive.”