More women now, but the numbers are still low

Over the past two decades, more leadership positions in radiation oncology (such as associate or full professors) have been held by women, but there are still very few minorities in these positions.

Still, compared to other specialties, “radiation oncology has some of the lowest numbers” for senior faculty from female minorities, say the authors of a new analysis.

The findings come from a review of data on sex, race, ethnicity, and faculty rankings from the Association of American Medical Colleges from 2000 to 2019, reported in a research letter published January 11 in JAMA network open.

The investigators were led by James Janopaul-Naylor, MD, radiation oncology resident at Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta.

The team looked into the matter because the number of female medical students and minorities pursuing studies in radiation oncology is disproportionately low compared to other oncology specialties. Given the role that senior faculty play in training and nurturing future physicians, they were curious about the demographics of senior faculty.

Overall, there were 853 senior radiation oncology faculty in 2019, 24.03% of whom were women.

Nearly 60% were white, about a third were Asian, 1.52% were black, and 1.3% were Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish. About 5% were Native Hawaiians, other Pacific Islanders, American Indians, Alaska Natives, strangers, multiracial, multiethnic, or other backgrounds.

Across 18 major medical specialties, radiation oncology had the fourth-lowest and lowest proportion of black men (0.82%) and Hispanic men (0.94%) in leadership positions.

Radiation oncology also had some of the lowest proportions of Hispanic women (0.35%), white women (13.25%) and black women (0.70%).

When the team looked back to see trends over the past two decades, they found that core radiation oncology faculty was made up mostly (68.03%) of white men in 2000, and that percentage decreased to 47.36% in 2019. During the same period, the proportion of white women increased from 10.30% to 13.55%.

The annual increase in the number of female senior professors (0.69%) in radiation oncology exceeded that observed in general surgery (0.48%) and radiology (0.44%).

The proportion of Asian male senior faculty in radiation oncology also increased substantially, from 13.95% to 24.82%, as well as the proportion of Asian female senior faculty, from 2.15% to 8.63%.

However, unlike the changes observed in general surgery, internal medicine and radiology, the radiation oncology results show that “the proportions of senior faculty who are members of underrepresented minority groups did not change significantly from 2000 to 2019,” the authors reported. .

The research letter from Janopaul-Naylor and colleagues concluded that “Accommodating the diversity of the medical workforce requires a reassessment of the entire pipeline, from early education to promotion of faculty…Programs that facilitate mentorship, networking, and leadership opportunities can be associated with better representation in radiation oncology, as can substantive policies that address the systemic exclusion of women, members of underrepresented minority groups.

The main limitation of the study was the lack of information about who, when, and why individuals were hired, promoted, or left academia.

The work was funded by Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute and the National Cancer Institute. Janopaul-Naylor reported grants from Genentech and Pfizer and consulting fees from OncoHealth; another author reported grants from Novocure and Denovo Biopharma; and another author reported holding shares in Imagilin Technology.

JAMA Netw Open. Published online January 11, 2022. Full text

Mr. Alexander Otto is a medical assistant with a Masters in Medical Science and an award-winning medical journalist who worked for several major news outlets before joining Medscape. He is an MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellow. Email: aotto@mdedge.com.

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