How the radiology community can counter COVID-19’s outsized impact on female physicians

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every facet of the radiology community, but female members of the specialty may be bearing the brunt.

This includes navigating board examinations while breastfeeding and caring for a family, and taking on a greater proportion of childcare, experts wrote Thursday in Clinical Imaging. Hospital and practice leaders must take action to alleviate these trends and provide a level playing field for women in radiology.

“COVID-19 has significantly impacted the professional and personal lives of women in imaging,” members of the American College of Radiology Women’s Caucus wrote in the Aug. 27 editorial. “The unique challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic provide an opportunity to initiate positive changes to support our community and advocate for the needs of women in radiology and radiation oncology,” they added later.

Shadi Esfahani, MD, with Massachusetts General Hospital, and co-authors summarized some of the discussion around this issue that occurred at ACR’s annual meeting back in May. She and colleagues listed the many ways the novel coronavirus has upended radiology leadership, clinical practice, training, medical education, work-life balance, and job hunting. As such, it will require a multi-pronged approach to address some of these challenges, caucus members wrote Thursday.

For example, the cancellation of in-person radiology rotations will likely hinder recruitment of female medical students into the specialty. Without any in-person electives, young docs won’t be able to interact with women radiologists who might have encouraged them to try imaging. This also decreases visibility of the profession, the editorial writers added.

“Without these opportunities, women medical students may be less familiar with and less likely to pursue the fields of radiology and radiation oncology,” Esfahani et al. wrote. “New pipeline initiatives should be considered to continue to combat the long-standing underrepresentation of women in radiology and overcome this new challenge.”

Women and men in imaging are also carrying a heavy emotional burden when coping with death and illness among family members and colleagues. And canceled or limited childcare is only increasing those stress levels. One recent study found that among families with two working parents, women are assuming up to 20 more hours per week of domestic housework than men during the pandemic, the authors noted.  

“It is therefore crucial that the medical community provides well-being and mindfulness programs to support healthcare workers, especially working mothers,” Esfanhani and colleagues wrote.

Other remedies to address this gender gap include offering certification exams in ways that “meet the needs of women trainees,” and conducting virtual interviews in residency and fellowship programs beyond COVID. The latter, the editorialists noted, would provide a “a more fair and family-friendly process for applicants with less emotional and financial costs.”

Radiology leaders must keep their ears to the ground to stay on top of these concerns through the duration of the crisis, the authors advised.

“In order to find the most appropriate and timely solutions during these unprecedented times and to communicate the policies and updates in a timely and transparent fashion, it is critical for leaders to listen and respond to the concerns and questions of the faculty and trainees,” noted the authors, who also serve on the executive committee of the American Association for Women in Radiology.

You can read the entire piece in Clinical Imaging here and more on how the public health emergency is affecting women in radiology here.