This post was contributed by Cheri Canon, MD, FACR, professor and chair of radiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine

After spending summers working in a family practice physician office and as a clerk on an ICU ward, I knew medicine was for me. However, radiology was a late decision and a pivot, as I was headed towards a career in orthopedics. An elective in radiology was a game-changer. However, although the healthcare workforce is approximately 70 percent female, there were very few female leaders in medicine, especially radiology. Women occupy only about 30 percent of all high-level leadership positions in healthcare, and only 32 percent of radiologists were women as of 2018. 17 percent of radiology chairs are women. This has doubled since I first became a chair – a great trajectory but a long way from equity. We have so much more to do.

Both as a professor and in my faculty role with the ACR’s Radiology Leadership Institute (RLI), I have unique opportunities to mentor and sponsor future female #RadLeaders, and champion the causes that are critically important to us.

Two years ago at the RLI Leadership Summit, I grabbed coffee with Rachel Gilbreath, who leads GE Healthcare’s strategy for academic medical centers across the U.S. Together we realized we had the same problem. Although women make up half of medical students and over half of the industry entry-level workforce, the numbers rapidly decline with the ascent to leadership. Although I’m a radiologist and Rachel represents the commercial side of the healthcare industry, we faced common challenges including gender bias, identifying mentors and sponsors and building community with other women in our field. It didn’t seem to be a pipeline problem. We had the same glass ceiling.

So how could we bring women in healthcare together to elevate their careers and embrace their leadership potential? That is how the Leading Empowering and Disrupting (LEAD) Program was born. LEAD is a yearlong program that focuses on monthly learning, designated mentors, professional development and live networking sessions.

After a highly competitive application process, we selected our inaugural class of 20 female radiologists and GE Healthcare employees. These women come together both virtually and in-person to learn from each other and tackle challenges together. LEAD participants are also paired with female and male executive leaders who help these emerging leaders reshape the typical industry and academic relationships and connect in new ways.

Our end goal is to make our new program irrelevant as soon as possible. Perhaps Sheryl Sandberg said it best: “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” Rachel and I are excited to make this shared vision a reality.

  • When and how did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in radiology?
  • How did you identify your mentor/mentee? What has surprised you most about the challenges or opportunities she, and you, are facing?

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