Medical students on why they are (and are not) choosing radiology

What draws medical students to radiology? A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology examined the motivations of students who choose diagnostic radiology and those who do not.

Elizabeth Kagan Arleo, MD, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, and colleagues surveyed more than 1,200 fourth-year medical students. Seven percent said they planned on applying in diagnostic radiology, leaving 93 percent who said they did not.

The study also found that the most important factor to consider for respondents applying in radiology was intellectual challenge. For respondents choosing a specialty outside of radiology, the degree of patient contact was the most important factor in their decision.

Myth busters & role models

Arleo spoke with about her team’s findings, saying radiologists can help the profession become more appealing to medical students by working to end certain myths. 

“The best myth busters are active evidence to the contrary,” Arleo said. “Students are concerned that radiologists don’t spend time with patients, therefore radiology clerkships should include days with a breast imager and/or interventional radiologist, who see and talk to patients all the time. Students are concerned that radiology is monotonous, therefore radiologists with rotating medical students need to explicitly show them the variety of modalities that we may read and diagnoses we may encounter in a given day or week.”

Diving deeper into the demographics, the study found that female medical students are much less likely to choose radiology than male students; 11.8 percent of men selected radiology, compared with just 2.8 percent of women.

The authors explained that these numbers are consistent with previous findings on the subject, but did note significant progress. Statistics from the American College of Radiology show that 22 percent of all practicing radiologists are women, but when just counting practicing radiologists younger than 35 years of age, that number jumps to 31 percent.

What’s responsible for this change? Arleo et al. suggested that medical students seeing more women in radiology could be making a difference.

“Both female and male radiologists can mentor both female and male medical students,” Arleo said. “Positive role models in radiology can demonstrate to students of both genders that our specialty is satisfying professionally and personally, which could impact or improve recruitment of medical students to our specialty overall. However, having a female radiologist role model may resonate more with a female medical student, as the younger says to herself, ‘Yes, I see or could see myself in her and I’d like to pursue a similar path.’ Therefore, female role models in radiology may help to increase the number of female medical students choosing the specialty.”

The study also found that more than 18 percent of respondents have dedicated imaging rotations as requirements at their medical school. Nineteen percent of those students said their required training leaned them toward considering radiology.

The authors said this is evidence radiology would benefit from more medical schools implementing required imaging rotations. And it remains beneficial for the student even if they go on to choose a different specialty altogether.

“I do think radiology should be a required rotation in medical schools,” Arleo said. “The rationale for this: the vast majority of medical students will not become radiologists. However, almost every medical specialty orders imaging studies, and medical students should have dedicated time to gain a better understanding of medical imaging, which will make them a more informed clinician with improved exam ordering and patient care skills.”