Q&A: Kathleen A. Ward on improving female participation in radiology

Kathleen A. Ward, MD, a radiologist at Loyola Medicine in Maywood, Ill., was recently named an Inaugural Fellow of the American Association for Women Radiologists (AAWR). Ward spoke to Radiology Business about the current shortage of women radiologists and what the industry can do to reverse that trend.

Radiology Business: Do you feel that women are underrepresented in radiology?

Kathleen A. Ward, MD: Women are definitely underrepresented. About 50 percent of medical students are women, but for the last four decades only around 20 percent of women – residents and attending physicians, pursued careers in radiology. If you look at the top 20 medical residencies, radiology is 17th in female representation. So yes, we definitely are underrepresented.

How can the industry get more women to join the radiology field and what are the AAWR’s efforts in outreach to medical, college and high school students? What are the biggest obstacles in getting more women into radiology?

The AAWR makes outreach specifically to medical students, but there is now a general push to engage female students in the STEM subjects, especially at the high school level.

Most medical students make decisions regarding their career of choice in medical school itself. But I think the students need more exposure to radiology during their clinical years. I think until medical schools do not require mandatory exposure to radiology, such as a rotation, we are always going to suffer. We invite both female and male students to radiology meetings and they are always welcome at our work stations to gain a better understanding of the practice.

Our biggest obstacle in getting more women in radiology is simply introducing them to the facets of the subject. When I was a medical student, one of the radiologists here at Loyola gave a lecture on radiology and the lecture got a lot of people excited about the field. This is the generation of technology.

When I was a medical student, one of the radiologists here at Loyola gave a fascinating lecture on radiology and he got a lot of people excited about the industry. This is the generation that has a good knowledge of technology – and radiology is loads of technology.

What are some of the reasons why women choose not to pursue a career in radiology?

There are several reasons that are generally mentioned, but I’m not sure that all of them are really true. The first is that women desire more direct patient care but in fact, in radiology, there is much opportunity for direct patient care and we impact patient care. There are certain subspecialties within radiology – breast imaging, interventional radiology, pediatric radiology – where women can really get involved and impact patients. I think this misconception of radiologists not having direct impact on patient care can be solved by mandatory time in radiology.

Second is that women tend to want a more flexible schedule. Radiology does offer a pretty flexible schedule and it offers great work-family balance. I have two children and I have never missed a Little League game or concert. I went to all of their activities and I found that my work schedule made it very easy for me.

Another reason I would say women choose not to pursue a career in radiology is the same reason as why the tech sector is having problems – there is not as much interest by women in the STEM fields.

But there are a lot of reasons why radiology is attractive to women. It is very stimulating, there is great job opportunity and the emerging technologies are very exciting. We are a consultant to the clinician and we impact patient care.

How would radiology practices improve with gender diversity?

I think it is always nice to bring a woman’s touch to the practice of radiology. Women in general are great multitaskers and we tend to be very rigorous in doing things the same way and we tend to be a little better at writing, which is very helpful. I really think that we bring a special touch to the practice of radiology and it can be seen particularly in breast imaging, pediatric radiology OB/GYN ultrasound.

What are your thoughts on mentorship for women within radiology and how important are role models for the next generation of radiologists and radiology technicians?

Mentorship is very important and I must say my mentors, before and during medical school – the people that got me interested in radiology, were men. There were a lot of great women mentors that I had in general medicine in medical school which encompassed cardiologists, gastroenterologists, endocrinologists, hematologists and oncologists. But I don’t think it is necessary for a woman radiologist to have a female mentor.

When I joined AAWR in the early 80s, I was exposed to stellar women in radiology that really helped me to understand all the things I was dealing with as a young mother, a wife, and a radiology practitioner. But again, I don’t think it’s necessary for women radiologists to only have a female mentor.

But again, I don’t think you have to have a woman mentor – I think men are equally great mentors and I just think you just need to see somebody that has a healthy attitude and has good humanitarian instincts like taking care of patients and just the thirst of knowledge you can get. What I have found most rewarding is helping people, stimulating my own intellect and learning more. There is always something new to learn in radiology. I’ve never stagnated in that respect. I always have something I can learn.

What would success in the industry look like for you in five or 10 years?

The increase of women in the radiology workforce and in prominent roles in radiology, whether it be in leadership, research or teaching would be the biggest marker of success.