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International Women’s Day Panel Event: Bridging the IR Gender Gap

Created - 10.05.2024

In celebration of International Women’s Day, the BSIR brought together a panel of interventional radiologist to share their experiences of being a woman in the male-dominated specialty. The dynamic discussion addressed the reasons for the IR gender-gap and what can be done to bridge it. With whole departments supporting and championing women, we can boost inclusion and representation within IR.

Our panelists:

  • Dr. Linda Watkins, Consultant Interventional Radiologist
  • Claire Elwood, Advanced Clinical Practitioner Radiographer and incoming Chair for the Radiology and Nurses Special Interest Group with BSIR.
  • Dr. Yasmin Cazorla Bak, ST1 in the East London Dream Academy and Chair of IR Juniors
  • Dr. Katrina Harborne, Consultant Interventional Radiologist and Chair of the BSIR Training Committee,
  • Dr. Saira Sayeed, Vascular Interventional Radiology Consultant and Chair of the EDI Committee of the BSIR

Early Barriers

It’s no secret that interventional radiology is a historically male-dominated profession. In fact, many members of our panel reported being the only female interventional radiologist in their department. So, what are the reasons for this extreme imbalance?


Our panelists shared an almost unanimous common experience: when expressing interest in interventional radiology early in their careers, they were discouraged. They were told to consider other paths that were more compatible with having children and a family life.


‘I was told that I should consider other options - that I needed to think about babies, think about family, think about the balance that I could have with diagnostic radiology versus interventional radiology.’ – Dr. Linda Watkins


Another barrier they reported was a lack of mentorship opportunities within IR. With such limited female representation, medical graduates may not even consider IR as an option. If they do, it’s difficult to find vital mentorship opportunities within their immediate network.


‘I think I wasn’t aware that there was support and there was mentorship available, so I didn’t reach out.’ – Dr. Saira Sayeed


Ultimately, this pervasive stereotype that IR isn’t compatible with a family life, as well as a lack of female representation within the specialty, means that many women are being actively deterred from pursuing it as a career.

Opening Up Opportunities

Whilst our panelists did face discouragement early in their careers, they also experienced precious moments of support. Colleagues championed them by putting them forward for opportunities such as audits, publications, funding or specialist projects.


‘I think the team around you and the people championing and supporting you makes all the difference.’ – Dr. Katrina Harborne


They also felt encouraged by seeing a ‘family first’ ethos at play in their departments. To see colleagues – both male and female – offered flexibility to make it for the school pick up, or to care for an unwell child, made them feel that they could unapologetically thrive in their career without sacrificing a family life.


‘And I think what was great as a trainee was you saw that example. It wasn’t just at face value, but things like the consultants, they would turn to the male trainees at quarter past five and say: ‘Do you not have nursery pickup? If you need to de-scrub, that’s fine”’- Dr. Linda Watkins


By actively disproving the negative misconception that a career in IR precludes a family life, female trainees can feel that they can grow in the specialty – even as other responsibilities in their lives evolve.


Pregnancy and Children

Our panelists discussed the anxiety many women face about taking time out of their careers to have children. This is particularly true during the lengthy training years, when women may worry that they could fall behind male peers if they press pause.  

In this sense, some of our panelists reported feeling obligated to ‘put off’ having children until after they’d finished their training and were more established in their careers.


‘I knew that if I go on maternity leave, I’ll be the only person going away for that long. So, I decided I wouldn’t get pregnant for the first one year. There’s no right time.’ – Dr. Saira Sayeed


Having the flexibility to continue training and working at less than full-time is vital. It means that interventional radiologists don’t need to halt their career trajectory if they take on primary-caregiver responsibilities.


But I think the early exposure, particularly the one I'm getting now, has been very nice because it helps you rationalise in your head that, okay, you can have children at some point. You'll pass your exams. It's not a race.’ – Dr. Yasmin Cazorla Bak


The logistics of undertaking fellowship training is another logistical concern. Facing the choice between relocating their family or being separated from them for a significant period of time, one of our panelists had to resort to undertaking intermittent out-of-programme training. Not only can this be extremely challenging to balance with other commitments, but also prove financially burdensome when accommodation and travel costs need to be covered.

Other Barriers for Women in IR


Another factor potentially contributing to the IR gender gap is the prevailing misconception that women who are – or trying to become – pregnant are unable to intervene in IR procedures. Some of our panelists reported that they were blocked from gaining experience by well-intentioned male colleagues who believed that being in the room put them at risk.


Yet, with the correct support and adherence to ALARA principles, women can continue to gain hands-on experience during pregnancy. It’s clear that education is needed to prevent the creation of unnecessary anxiety and barriers.


‘There's no reason why women need to stop doing their job because they're pregnant, other than obviously for their own health or for their child's health at some point.’ – Dr. Claire Elwood


Another logistical concern that disproportionately affects women is access to well-fitting leads. Our panelists reported that, during their training years, they consistently encountered difficulties in finding leads in smaller sizes. This lack of access to adequate resources can have adverse impacts on female interventional radiologists’ comfort and health.


‘I had biceps tendonitis in my training years because I didn’t have a lead that would fit me.” – Dr. Saira Sayeed




If our enlightening panel discussion made one thing clear, it’s that there are a number of concerns in IR that disproportionately affect women. Equally, there are damaging misconceptions that could be actively discouraging women from pursuing a rewarding career in IR.


In order to bridge the IR gender gap, the specialty needs to shrug off its reputation as being incompatible with family life and less-than-full-time work. Women also need access to mentorship opportunities early in their careers. By offering flexibility, support and re-education around misconceptions, we can empower more women to thrive in IR. 

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