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Wanted: women in interventional cardiology

By Dr. Cindy L. Grines, FACC, FSCA, Vice President Academic and Clinical Affairs, Detroit Medical Center Cardiovascular Institute

After spending the last 25 years of my life as an interventional cardiologist, I still love my career. I like working with my hands and the immediate gratification of witnessing rapid improvement in a critically ill patient. Tremendous breakthroughs have transpired in interventional cardiology over the past 30 years however, we still have not made significant progress in achieving parity for women. The number of women entering this sub-specialty today has only marginally increased and only 4 percent of all practicing interventionalists are women.

In industry surveys, men and women have different views as to why interventional cardiology has not attracted more women. In one survey conducted in Europe, men said that women didn’t want to work the long hours necessary, and were concerned about working with radiation. Yet, when women were asked the same question, their response was that they didn’t have the opportunity. Let’s address these responses.

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With regard to working long hours, more than 30 percent of all surgical residents now are women. Needless to say, we’re not afraid of working long hours. Perhaps, women are not going into interventional cardiology because, unlike surgery, trainees are not exposed to the subspecialty during medical school or residency.

Concerning the issue of radiation exposure, it definitely is a concern that may deter some women but it’s difficult to surmise with absolute certainty. The results of a survey presented at the ACC Annual Scientific Sessions showed a delineation among responses regarding radiation concerns between women below age 40 and those above. Women in the under-40 age group expressed much more serious concerns about working conditions relative to radiation exposure during their child-bearing years.

One of the advantages all interventionalists have today is that advances in technology are providing greater protection options. For example, robotics technology – CorPath from Corindus – I have implemented in my practice, has definite advantages from both a radiation protection and musculoskeletal standpoint. Interventional cardiologists must educate themselves on the options available to them to reduce their occupational hazards.

In further reflecting on the relatively low number of women in interventional cardiology, part of the problem may lie in the extensive amount of training required. Seven to eight years of training is required for internal medicine, cardiology and then interventional. Women may not necessarily want to devote that amount of time, particularly when there are so few female role models.
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