VUMC's Women in Radiology program aims to improve the specialty’s gender gap

Women are underrepresented in radiology, something researchers within the specialty have spent more and more time exploring in recent years. At Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in Nashville, Tennessee, the radiology department decided to take action, launching the Women in Radiology program in 2014.

“We recognized, anecdotally, that many women in our department seemed to remain at the assistant professor level longer than their male counterparts,” Lucy B. Spalluto, assistant professor and associate director of diversity, equity and inclusion at VUMC, said in a case study shared by the American College of Radiology. “We also noticed that there were few women in leadership positions and that women were underrepresented in our residency and fellowship programs. So, we put our heads together and came up with the idea for a Women in Radiology initiative.”

Spalluto’s initial partner in this endeavor was Stephani E. Spottswood, MD, professor of radiology and chief of pediatric nuclear medicine at VUMC. Within two years, the program had already made a significant impact at VUMC, helping the number of women within the radiology department increase from 30 to 39 percent. In addition, two faculty members have been promoted to a new position, one was awarded her very first grant and yet another had her first scientific abstract accepted.

An initiative from the program that helps women move forward in their careers through networking, education and events, the Leadership Intervention to Further the Training of Female Faculty (LIFT-OFF), has been a big part of this success. For example, 86 percent of women surveyed “agreed or strongly agreed” that the LIFT-OFF initiative provided “a better understanding of the department’s promotional guidelines than they had prior to LIFT-OFF.” And 75 percent said they “now have better access to faculty development.”

Mary Ann Keenan, an assistant professor of radiology and radiological sciences, said in the case study that this program “has been a godsend.”

“As a medical physicist, I don’t fit the ‘radiologist mold,’ and I often feel like an outsider,” she said. “It has been wonderful to get to know some of the other professional women, with everybody sharing their trials and tribulations and solutions. And, of course, hearing the speakers has been very insightful and motivating.”

Spalluto noted gender diversity is about hiring more women, but it is also about helping patients feel more comfortable and giving them the best possible care. “Women can bring a different perspective to the clinical, administrative, and educational facets of radiology,” she said in the case study. “Promoting a culture supportive of diversity will benefit our radiology organization as well as our patients and their families. More than half of our patients are women, and the demographics of our healthcare providers should better reflect our patient populations.” 

Previous coverage of the gender gap in radiology can be read here, here, here and here, among other places throughout Radiology Business. Spalluto also wrote a commentary related to this topic for Radiology Business Journal in 2017.