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Study Addresses Disparities in Women and Diverse Racial and Ethnic Groups in Radiation Oncology

Discrepancies Between Medical Student and Radiation Oncology Resident Population Demographics Have Not Been Thoroughly Studied

April 10, 2023
Holy Grace
Holy Grace, SOM Class of 2023, was lead author on the study

Though the diversity of the United States continues to grow, the disparity of women and people from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in medicine pursuing careers in the field of radiation oncology persists. A recent study conducted by New York Medical College (NYMC) faculty and students and published in Advances in Radiation Oncology demonstrated that medical students showed little to no difference in considering radiation oncology as a specialty across races and ethnicities, making additional education and exposure to opportunities in radiation oncology as well as further research into barriers to entry into the field paramount to addressing these inequities in the future.

“Prior studies have found that having a shared race or ethnicity between the patient and provider is associated with improved overall health care outcomes as well as patient satisfaction and adherence to treatment recommendations. Therefore, it is imperative to have diverse specialists in every medical field,” said Mill Etienne, M.D. ’02, M.P.H., FAAN, FAES, vice chancellor of diversity and inclusion, associate dean for student affairs and associate professor of neurology and of medicine.

“Given the aging population of the U.S. and overall increased prevalence of many cancer types, it is particularly important to increase the diversity of providers in the many oncologic subspecialties, including medical oncology, surgical oncology and radiation oncology,” said Mark Hurwitz, M.D., FASTRO, FACRO, chair and professor of Department of Radiation Medicine.

For the research project, a cross-sectional study of matriculating medical students at NYMC was conducted to assess interest in radiation oncology, awareness of residency opportunities and demographic background.

“Unlike the demographics of the current radiation oncology workforce, the demographics of students with a baseline interest in radiation oncology or what factors before medical school may influence these discrepancies between medical student and radiation oncology resident population demographics have not been thoroughly studied,” said Holly Grace, SOM Class of 2023 and first author on the NYMC study. “This study therefore provides important new insights on the perceptions and interest in radiation oncology.”

“We found that matriculating students showed little to no difference in consideration of pursuing a career in radiation oncology across races or ethnicities,” said Ms. Grace. “Students repeatedly expressed the need for increased education, exposure and mentorship to select radiation oncology for residency. Although there were variations in responses regarding interests and barriers among matriculating medical students, the overwhelming response from students was a lack of awareness of the field. This study highlights the importance of targeted outreach and education for premedical students and incoming medical students to diversify the future radiation oncology workforce.”