Lack of applicants, not bias, cited in study of low number of female radiology residents

The lack of women in diagnostic radiology residencies does not appear to be the result of any sort of discrimination or gender bias against women, at least according to a recent study of one school published in Academic Radiology.

In fact, a research team from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) wrote, if any sort of bias exists, it is in favor of female applicants.

“This finding is significant as it implies that the most likely source for the gender gap in radiology is the pipeline of female medical students interested in a career in radiology, rather than discrimination,” Lara Hewett and colleagues wrote.

The authors explained that the number of female radiology residents has been low for many years. In 1980, 25.5 percent of all radiology residents were female, and the number was just 26.8 percent in 2013. Over that same time period, other specialties have shifted and become much more evenly split between men and women.

To look at this issue more closely, the authors analyzed more than 4,000 applications to MUSC’s diagnostic radiology residency program from 2008-2014. Female applicants made up approximately 24 percent of the program’s total applicant pool, but 30 percent of the applicants who were invited to interview.

The authors tracked numerous measures in an attempt to explain this difference, including applicants’ interview scores and United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 scores, which directly correlate with academic performance.

In six of the seven years they studied, female applicants invited to interview had higher average interview scores than male applicants invited to interview by an average of more than 3 percent.  

Male applicants, meanwhile, regularly had higher USMILE Step 1 scores. In five of the seven years, the authors found, the difference between male and female applicants was “statistically significant.”

Ultimately, the authors found no definite reason for the disproportionate number of women invited to interview, but did propose one possible explanation.

“Given that no other major factors that are typically deemed highly important in selecting applicants to interview or to ranking are evidently different between genders in a way that would benefit women, it seems possible that this apparent advantage is representative of a form of gender bias toward females,” the authors wrote. “It is unclear if this proposed bias is conscious or unconscious.”

Hewett et al. concluded that leaders within radiology must learn from other specialties that have improved gender diversity over the last four decades. The number of female applicants to diagnostic radiology residency programs must increase, but there is no evidence that bias against women is purposefully holding it back.