RSNA 2017 Q&A: RADxx co-founders McGinty, Peiris on representation, inclusivity, empowerment of women in radiology

RAD Women, a.k.a. RADxx, is only a year old—but don't let its age fool you in terms of the influence, opportunity and inclusivity it has given to women in radiology and health imaging informatics. 

Founded in November 2016 and sponsored by Ambra Health, RADxx has been building a community of more than 100 radiology and health imaging professionals and medical students—including both women and men—since its first in-person appearance at the 2016 Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) conference.

The diverse and gender-inclusive health imaging community also hosts the exclusively annual RADxx Awards, highlighting women and men who have contributed to the advancement and empowerment of women in the health imaging fields.

With the inaugural RADxx Awards only a few weeks away, Radiology Business caught up with RADxx co-founders Geraldine McGinty, MD, MBA, and Mini Peiris, CMO of Ambra Health, to discuss RADxx, the first RADxx Awards and how the RADxx community is providing opportunity and empowerment to women in traditionally male-dominated fields.   

Radiology Business: What is the purpose and goals of RADxx?  

Peiris: The purpose of RADxx is to sponsor networking and mentorship opportunities with the end mission of getting more women into imaging informatics. Obviously, that ties into broader fields of radiology and data imaging, in general. Anyone that has a role in imaging, whether that's on the clinical side or administrative side, it is the goal to increase women in that specialty.  

How is RADxx beneficial for students and professionals in radiology and medical imaging? 

McGinty, MD, MBA: Building inclusive communities, recognizing leaders and rising stars and sharing challenges are all helpful in making our profession more diverse and attracting the best talent. Also, by holding regular "Tweet Chats," posting resources to the RADxx site and keeping up the dialogue, we’re using social media to keep this issue front of mind when we’re not together in the workplace or at conferences. 

Why have the RADxx Awards? What are the different awards given?  

Peiris: When you see a peer in a leadership role, that's the best way to encourage you to go into that field. One of the reasons for the awards is to highlight that there are women in imaging informatics doing exciting things. The Trailblazer Award recognizes those women pioneers in the field. The Rising Star Award is meant to encourage new women who are up and coming in the field. We put together a really nice incentive for them. There's a travel award that's a part of it; the winner will get $2,000 to attend the SIIM annual conference. We felt that was the perfect way to encourage career development in imaging informatics. In addition to the travel award, we'll pair them up with mentors in the field while they're at the conference. This will be both men and women mentors. Lastly, the RADxx Advocate Award highlights men or women who have done a lot to further the career of a woman in imaging informatics to really show that we really appreciate those who have helped us along the way.

Describe the kinds of mentorship and sponsorship opportunities RADxx offers to members.  

Peiris: Mentors are great and I think we have plenty of women that we can pull in for mentorship rank and support. But there's a difference in what a sponsor looks like and that's where I think you need to have strong support across all genders. Sponsors typically will help you get into those opportunities and will bring your name up in conversations that you may not be ready to yet. We need strong support across both genders for women so they can get sponsored more in their careers.

What is one surprising thing you’ve encountered since the creation of RADxx? 

McGinty: The level of interest from professionals other than radiologists. There’s definitely a hunger for an inclusive community for women who are involved in imaging informatics, whatever their role.  

Why is it important that more women pursue radiology or medical imaging academically and professionally?  

McGinty: I think [radiologists] offer more patient centered care and drive more inclusive research when our profession more closely mirrors the patients we serve. 

Peiris: In terms of informatics, there is so much happening in the world of imaging technology and innovation these days. To move the field forward, going into a specialty such as imaging informatics is really where the future lies.  

What is your opinion on the number of women currently pursuing radiology and health imaging professionally? 

McGinty: We’re doing better, but we’re not where we need to be. The American College of Radiology (ACR) established a Commission on Women and Diversity to help get us there and initiatives like RADxx go a long way in bringing professionals together to steward change.  

Peiris: Women think more differently than men; genetically we have higher empathy and those are important things when you looking at how to bridge technology to patient care.  If you're constantly only representing one demographic of the population, it's not going to give a more wholistic view to any problem that you're trying to address. 

There has and still exists a misrepresentation of women in radiology and other STEM careers. What do you think keeps female high school and medical students from wanting to pursue radiology, imaging or other STEM careers?  

Peiris: I think there's a lack of role models, and if you see yourself in a field and you identify yourself with the person in that field, you're more likely to want to pursue that. That's also one of the goals why we created RADxx, to get more women into the field and into leadership roles so that younger people could recognize it for themselves and see this as a career path. I think going beyond that, there's still also a lot of cultural norms that girls aren't smart at math or science. If you look at the numbers, going into medical school women are pretty well represented on diversity; it's about 50/50 for men and women. What happens is that as people pick their specialty, and more and more people, women in particular, pick specialties that are considered friendly to balancing a family and your career, for instance. Radiology is not yet perceived as one of those fields that allows for flexibility and more opportunities for women, so part of our mission at RADxx is to change that perception.  

McGinty: The ACR is currently conducting a rigorous survey to understand what barriers are preventing more women from choosing radiology as med students. We do know that being exposed to radiology early in med school helps. Being exposed to radiology and of course other STEM careers early is critical so girls can make smart career choices. 

What does the future look of RADxx look like in the next five years?  

Peiris: For RADxx we would love to really formalize a mentor program and I think we've been able to do a really great job on the networking sides. I think with the RADxx awards, we are starting to recognize the mentoring and sponsoring that's happening. I'd love to see that in the next five years grow to become a much more formal program where when you join RADxx, you get to tell us your goals for your career and then get paired up with a mentor/sponsor depending on what your goals are. In terms of scholarships, I'd love to see the awards taken to the next level to have an impact on those in medical school before they pick their specialty.