By Adrianna Henson Masters, MD, PhD
Despite the increasing percentage of female medical students, radiation oncology residency applicant numbers have been declining in recent years. It is among the five lowest specialties for the proportion of female applicants. This disappointing trend of gender disparity only worsens at the higher levels of leadership. In order to provide a network for the promotion and support of women in radiation oncology, the Society for Women in Radiation Oncology (SWRO), was founded in 2017 by a group of residents: Drs. Virginia Osborn, Anna Lee, Ashley Albert, Laura Dover, Courtney Hentz, Adrianna Masters, Lindsay Puckett, Kaleigh Doke and Genevieve Maquila with the guidance of faculty mentors Drs. Parul Barry and Reshma Jagsi.
The mission of SWRO:
- To provide a platform to promote women in the field of radiation oncology through networking and mentoring opportunities for women focusing on career development and the steep transition into leadership roles in our field.
- To provide a forum to support trainees and faculty who are working to build connections with established women in radiation oncology through sponsorship at all levels.
- To champion gender equality in oncology, acknowledging the specific challenges of women, and removing barriers to the advancement of women in professional and academic settings.
Emboldened by the victory of such social media campaigns such as #ILookLikeASurgeon, SWRO decided to launch a campaign to highlight the vital role of women in radiation oncology. It was also an opportunity to pay homage to one of the most pivotal leaders in the discovery of radiation and its clinical utility.
Marie Curie was a founder of radiation physics and proposed the theory of radioactivity. She is the only person to be awarded a Nobel Prize in two disciplines. She is also one of three women who have earned the Nobel Prize in physics. In honor of her legacy and the #RadOncWomen whose exceptional dedication diligently advances the field of radiation oncology, SWRO along with ASTRO, and the Radiation Oncology Women’s Facebook group, launched the first annual #WomenWhoCurie Campaign on November 7, 2018.
The world-wide radiation oncology community joined together in an overwhelmingly positive flurry of activity on various forms of social media including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to post photos of themselves or women that inspire them in radiation oncology. Every inhabitable continent in the world was represented as over 700 people contributed to more than 2,000 photos and messages. The inspiring photos spanned multiple different roles in radiation including physicists, physicians, nurses, therapists, dosimetrist and patient advocates to name a few. Multiple organizations, hospitals and journals contributed, and @ASTRO even generated a twitter moment along with our own @S_W_R_O to commemorate the event. Men and women echoed the importance of women in radiation medicine with over 1.1 million impressions linked to the #WomenWhoCurie hashtag, as measured by Symplur analytics.
We hope that this momentum will continue to bring to the forefront of discussion the need for gender equity in radiation oncology. We represent a small part of the physician community as radiation oncologists in general, and an even tinier portion as female radiation oncologists, but the overwhelming sentiment from #WomenWhoCurie day is that even a small group can make a huge impact on the lives of our patients. For a more detailed report about the campaign and the #WomenWhoCurie hashtag analytics, read our recently published open access article “#WomenWhoCurie: Leveraging Social Media to Promote Women in Radiation Oncology” in Advances in Radiation Oncology.