Q&A: Amy Patel on taking ‘diversity in radiology’ from airy catchphrase to concrete action

As the first female chief resident in an all-male program, Amy Patel, MD, breast radiologist at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and instructor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, knows a lot about the importance of diversity and inclusivity of women and minorities in radiology. Patel took questions from Radiology Business.com on the industry’s efforts in these areas.

Radiology Business.com: What’s the current situation in terms of diversity and inclusivity in radiology? How are young radiologists diversifying the field?

Amy Patel, MD: When it pertains to radiology, we are not quite there yet when it comes to diversity. We all must acknowledge that diversity and inclusivity should be the rule and not the exception. However, I do think we are seeing a positive change in our profession. For example, active efforts are currently taking place in our profession through organized radiology groups such as the American College of Radiology (ACR) Commission for Women and Diversity—even making this topic the theme of certain meetings such as at the ACR Intersociety Summer Conference in August 2017. It was literally a think tank of our profession’s leaders that came together to devise ways to improve diversity and inclusion going forward.

Additionally, there is a new initiative in radiology called RADxx, and it’s essentially an initiative to spur recruitment of women in imaging informatics and diversify that field. So, there are a lot of great things going on to diversify radiology.

We are seeing how diversity is a powerful force in many other sectors, including the business sector. And I think that we, as a profession, can certainly learn from existing models to facilitate our profession’s own fortification and success. 

I do think that when it comes to young radiologists, it isn’t so much what we are actively doing than rather what is inherent to us. What I mean by this is, we were exposed to a more diverse population beginning in medical school perhaps compared to our older colleagues. In a lot of ways, [this] is the norm for us or second nature. We know that by 2055, it is projected that there will not be one dominant race, and I think our generation will be ready to serve the needs that the general population requires and certainly deserves.

What steps have you personally taken to bring about more diversity and inclusivity to the practice of radiology?

In 2015, through the support of the ACR and peers, I was fortunate to be able to devise the ACR Women and Diversity Advisory Group for the ACR Resident and Fellow Section (ACR RFS). This is the trainee branch of the ACR Commission for Women and Diversity. The objectives of the group are to work in concert with the main commission as well as work on various projects in the RFS to promote diversity, including but not limited to, recruitment of women and underrepresented minorities. So that’s definitely something that I have been very active with as a trainee and even as a young radiologist, as I still advise in an unofficial capacity and am also now serving on the main commission for the ACR.

What led to you establishing the ACR Women and Diversity Advisory Group?

I ultimately established the advisory group because I felt passionately about recruiting minorities, and particularly women, as they still are the minority when it comes to radiology. This passion stemmed from my residency training program at the University of Kansas-Wichita, where there was an extreme paucity of females. In my senior year, I was the only female in the entire program.

What is it like being the first female chief resident in an all-male program?

I can honestly say it was one of the best learning experiences of my life. I really grew as a person and soon-to-be radiologist that year. I learned how to navigate the waters of leadership and how at times, it can be very tricky, demanding and just plain exhausting.

However, it was also infinitely rewarding. I learned how to develop my own leadership style, as I think that is something we all learn over time, whether you’re a female or a male. However, with females, I think there is a whole entire layer of complexity. For me, it was striving to achieve the reputation that I was tough, but fair, but simultaneously warm and supportive. I wanted my co-residents to feel that they could always come to me with any problem whatsoever, whether it was from a professional standpoint or even personal. And being a chief in an all-male program had its challenges in and of itself, namely ensuring I wasn’t being taken advantage of or walked all over. But for the most part, that didn’t happen to me as I was incredibly fortunate to have top-notch co-residents who, in turn, became like brothers to me.

Why is it so important to get more women involved in radiology?

Of course, there are the obvious answers that I think most women radiologists would say such as, “it’s a great lifestyle” and “the salary is fantastic.” But I also think we are fortunate to be practicing in a time where women are being treated more equally and are being given opportunities that perhaps they were not privy to [years] ago, particularly when it comes to leadership, governance, education and research. We younger women radiologists really do understand how our older female colleagues fought and continue to fight so tirelessly so that the younger generation of women can achieve parity in all arenas in radiology, and we must continue to build on their efforts. And I think we are.

There are a lot of younger radiologists coming through the pipeline that are not taking this lightly, and we are really wanting to move the needle forward. It’s really exciting as we all get to be a part of this wonderful movement for change in our profession.

How are young radiologists encouraging recruitment efforts?

Well the good news is, I think most radiologists at all career levels are making recruitment of women into radiology a priority, so that’s fantastic! When it comes to younger radiologists, I think we are getting more involved particularly in giving medical school lectures, participating in medical student radiologist interest groups, trying to engage medical students more at the workstation and through social media, and even taking it to a national level through organized radiology. For example, the American College of Radiology (ACR) RFS Medical Student Task Force and ACR RFS Women and Diversity Group are devising ways to spur recruitment.

However, it must be noted that these groups are in their early stages. It is certainly a start toward achieving gender parity in our profession. There’s an active game plan that we are initiating. We’ve known and discussed for a long time that recruitment is key, but we really have seen no meaningful change. So I think our generation is really taking it to the next level to see this through, to make sure that we do see a meaningful change. And now are seeing this when it comes to males and females entering medical school, so I am hopeful that we will eventually see this in radiology.