Women in Interventional Cardiology: How to forge a career in a field dominated by men

By Cindy L. Grines, MD, FACC, FSCAI, Vice President Academic and Clinical Affairs, Detroit Medical Center Cardiovascular Institute, Detroit, Michigan

If you ask both men and women why the field of interventional cardiology has not attracted more women, their views are mixed. For example, men’s responses from an industry survey conducted in Europe revealed that women don’t like the long work hours necessary and are concerned about radiation exposure. Women on the other hand, responded that it was the lack of opportunity that kept them away.

As a female interventional cardiologist who has been practicing for more than 25 years, I clearly have bucked the norm. Yet, despite the tremendous breakthroughs in the field, we still have not made significant progress in achieving parity for women. In fact, the number of women entering this subspecialty today has only marginally increased, with only four percent of all practicing interventionalists being women.

Getting back to the European survey, I’d like to address the responses from male interventional cardiologists. Regarding their perception about working long hours, it is interesting to note that today, more than 30 percent of surgical residents are women, and long work hours come with the territory. Needless to say, we’re not afraid to work long hours. Perhaps one of the reasons women aren’t entering interventional cardiology is because, unlike surgery, trainees are not exposed to the subspecialty during medical school or residency.

Because women are judged by a different standard, female interventionalists must work harder and be better than their male counterparts. My advice to women who are launching their careers is to stay focused and take the high road as much as possible to be successful. Volunteer for research projects, join committees, and build your practice. Develop a national presence. And, show respect for your colleagues, especially women, as we all need to support each other.

Radiation exposure is definitely 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 Scientific Sessions revealed a delineation 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.

The good news is, advances in technology are providing all interventional cardiologists with greater protection options. Robotics technology, which I currently use in my practice, can significantly reduce radiation exposure for physicians. As technology evolves, it is important that we educate ourselves on all available options to reduce occupational health hazards while advancing our practice.

I still love my career and am lucky to work in a field that I enjoy. I find working with my hands and witnessing rapid improvement in a critically ill patient extremely gratifying, and would still opt for cardiology if I had to do it over again. As the population increases and ages, we will see many more cardiology opportunities become available. And, based on my experience, cardiology patients are very nice, friendly, and appreciative of their physician!