The new study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, is a first-of-its-kind snapshot of gender diversity in cardiology in Australia and New Zealand, it reveals that less than five percent of interventional cardiologists are women, reflecting a similar imbalance to the United States where women account for only 4.5 percent of interventional cardiologists and perform less than 3 percent of angioplasty procedures.
The authors obtained data for the study from hospitals throughout Australia and New Zealand and compared it with data from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, Medical Council of New Zealand, and the Royal College of Physicians for the period between 2015 and 2017.
Female interventional cardiologists in Australia and New Zealand are rare and practicing in isolation.
While 15 percent of cardiologists are women, the gender gap is especially pronounced in 'interventional cardiology', a branch of cardiology using catheter-based treatment of heart diseases, including heart attacks - the most common cause of death for Australians and New Zealanders.
According to lead author, Dr Sonya Burgess, a cardiologist at Nepean Hospital, 89 percent of female interventional cardiologists practice at hospitals where they are the sole female operator. These lone interventionalists are further isolated by geography: three out of Australia’s eight states, for example, have no female interventional cardiologists.
“Female interventional cardiologists in Australia and New Zealand are rare and practicing in isolation. The absence of visible female role models discourages junior female doctors from entering interventional cardiology training programs,” she reports.
“(The) low numbers of female interventional cardiologists overall and their relative isolation has the potential to impact on recruitment, collegial support, mentoring, and research.”
In a further sobering detail, Drs Burgess, Shaw, Ellenberger, Thomas, Grines and Zaman note that the gender pay gap, documented elsewhere in cardiology and in medicine more generally, is evident in Australia and New Zealand, where the average annual taxable income in 2015-2016 for female cardiologists was only 55% of their male counterparts’ income.
The gender gap in interventional cardiology also has capacity to affect patients.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women and many studies indicate suboptimal treatment and outcomes of female patients with heart disease compared to men.
For example, a recent MJA study led by the University of Sydney revealed that women admitted to Australian hospitals with serious heart attacks were half as likely as men to get proper treatment and to die at twice the rate of men six months after discharge.
“We hope that all cardiologists, male and female, will also read this and think about what they can do as directors of cath labs, mentors, and leaders to facilitate change,” said Dr Burgess.