COVID-19 only amplifying Dr. Mom’s ‘triple whammy’ of challenges. How radiology can respond.

Radiologists and other female physicians face a “triple whammy” of challenges in their careers, and this burden is only growing worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s according to a new opinion piece penned by Penn Health experts, published Monday in JACR. Challenges include structural discrimination, rigid work expectations and a high debt load following medical school. The specialty needs to address this unsustainable situation for “Dr. Moms,” or risk creating a future where physicians shy away from the profession.

“If the forces behind the triple whammy do not change, radiology and radiation oncology departments will suffer,” Seth Hardy, MBA, and Kathryn McGillen—both MDs with the Department of Radiology at Penn State Health’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center—wrote Oct. 5. “Physician mothers are assets to our specialty; the system invests in them and should support their success. As young women choose to enter radiology and radiation oncology pipelines, we must recognize these challenges to improve their experiences and career outcomes.”

The authors explored the three whammies in greater detail, noting that physicians often leave school saddled by debt, which can constrain their ability to plan a family and scare future prospects away from radiology.

Hardy and McGillen also offered up a few remedies. Some medical schools are starting to do away with tuition, but it’s still too early to gauge the impact on female graduates. Until this idea becomes more mainstream, the pair suggested “increased attention to how student debt affects gender equity in the medical workforce.”

Medical colleges must take a closer look at their cost structure to help lessen the burden on physicians. Slashing administrative roles, closing unnecessary buildings and moving more classes online are just a few ways to begin bringing the price tag down for students. Some schools are even offering accelerated three-year programs to reduce students’ debt loads.

Training programs must also assemble databases of starting salaries for graduates to help foster more transparency and increase awareness around gender disparities, Hardy and McGillen urged.

“The economic fall-out of COVID-19 will probably include a number of physician mothers who find they can no longer continue careers in medicine, or whose contributions will be compromised by new demands of family life,” the authors concluded. “Radiology and radiation oncology can set the tone for future debate by acknowledging the problem squarely and committing to steps that improve the circumstances for mothers in medicine,” they added later.

Read the full piece in the Journal of American College of Radiology here. You can also read previous coverage on how the COVID-19 is impacting female physicians here and here.