Not everyone can say that they are working in the field they went to school for, and/or are enjoying it. I am one of the lucky ones. That does not mean my path did not come without challenges. One of those challenges included enduring prejudices, racism and a lack of diversity around me. Though I have had my own challenges, I know others in my career field who have endured more. One includes a colleague of mine that works at a large academic medical center. Being Black and female in radiology administration was something she has endured since the 1980s. I had an honest conversation with her about her challenges and asked if I could document it in this column.
Me: How do feel about diversity in radiology?
Her answer: I do not believe there is enough diversity of any sorts within radiology. Most organizations grow supervisors and managers from an internal pool of tech candidates. We do not get to see diversity in radiology management, because the radiology tech pool is not diverse.
Me: So, why do you think the schools are to blame?
Her: Well, the rad tech schools targeted potential students from high schools that were in the suburbs and nicer areas of the city. They did not recruit from the schools in high diversity and/or minority areas.
Me: Do you think we need to recruit high school kids?
Her: Yes, we need diverse radiology leaders to go into highly populated minority high schools for career day and let them know about a career in radiology. We need to speak to the kids about our backgrounds and let them know how we evolved and achieved through education. They need to see us to visualize that they can do it, too.
Me: What are some of the challenges you faced when you started your career?
Her: One was my name. Looking at my name on a resume most people thought I was a white male. Then, when I showed up, they saw a Black female. After getting through the interviews, I had to win over the staff. I won them over because I walked the walk and talked the talk. I would get my hands dirty working alongside my subordinates. That instantly won them over because I performed strong and led strong.
Me: What are some of the things you felt you had to do to excel?
Her: I knew I had to get buy-in from everyone before I made changes. I knew we needed to better our patient experiences, so I would ask different stakeholders (techs, supervisors, radiologists and referring physicians) three questions? As for our current processes and procedures – What do you like? Dislike? Feel is unsafe? After presenting these findings in a presentation, I resolved the top five issues within my first 90 days.
Me: What advice would you give your younger self?
Her: To be more honest with asking for help and to be more courageous when opportunity knocks. I had opportunities in the past that I passed up. Others had more faith in my abilities and were proposing opportunities that they thought were good for me.
The conversation ended with her telling me of an initiative they have implemented at her facility to recruit more rad techs. They are sending recruiters to career days at local high schools to recruit students as tech aids. Then, if a student chooses to go to rad tech school they can get a tuition reimbursement and a retention bonus. She has insured that minority high schools are a part of the pool, now.
Verlon E. Salley is Vice President of Community Health Equity at UAB Health System.