March 07, 2023

Women’s History Month: Stories of Women in Radiology

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Since its inception, women have heavily influenced the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) Department of Radiology. Not only did a woman establish the department itself as its inaugural chair, but women leaders continue this tradition today with a department that is now one of the premier academic radiology departments in the United States. To honor these women during Women’s History Month, the Department of Radiology has collaborated with the Heersink School of Medicine Office for Diversity and Inclusion to bring you part one of “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.”

Melson Barfield Carter, M.D., and the beginning of the department

Barfield CarterMelson Barfield-Carter, M.D.Melson Barfield-Carter, M.D., was the first woman to graduate from Tulane Medical School. In 1945, she became the first female faculty member in the UAB School of Medicine and was the first woman to be named a department chair. She was also the first woman department head at the UAB Medical Center.

When Barfield-Carter was recruited to UAB, she insisted that Radiology become its own department (previously a division in the Department of Surgery). A trailblazer committed to resident education, she started the radiology residency training program and developed the School of Radiological Technology at UAB.

Desiree Morgan, M.D., Learning Communities and resident education

In 2020, six of the 11 School of Medicine Learning Communities were renamed after prominent leaders, one being Barfield-Carter. Desiree Morgan, M.D., vice chair of education and professor in the Department of Radiology, is the lead faculty mentor for the Barfield-Carter Learning Community where she spends most Monday afternoons helping students learn professionalism, ethics, and leadership skills. The mission of the Learning Communities program is to foster lasting relationships that promote wellness and professional development in a safe and inclusive environment. All medical students are assigned to a Learning Community based on their clinical campus assignments and stay with the same community throughout their four years of medical school.

morgan 2015 useDesiree Morgan, M.D.Since joining the faculty in 1993, Morgan has mentored numerous medical students, residents, and junior faculty in a variety of preclinical and clinical research endeavors. She is the former program director of the Diagnostic Radiology Residency Program, she initiated Radiology Resident Research Education and Appreciation Day (READY) that has become the annual celebration of our graduating residents and fellows, and she created and served as the initial director of the Resident Clinician Educator Pathway (CEP) to excite trainees about future careers in academics.

“Women make up more than half of medical school classes, and while there are some clusters of specialties that seem to attract women physicians (perhaps because of perceived lifestyle, patient populations, or synergy with their personal health priorities- like reproductive rights), as physicians, women are involved in all disciplines of clinical practice, in basic, translational, and clinical research,” said Morgan. “If we drive the healthcare workforce to consider important issues like work-life integration, parental leave, inclusion, teamwork, and the “softer” side of medical practice, then all of us, all people, will benefit.”

Cheri Canon, M.D., FACR, FSAR, FAAWR, leading the department today

canon 0720Cheri Canon, M.D., FACR, FSAR, FAAWRCheri Canon, M.D., FACR, FSAR, FAAWR, professor and Witten-Stanley Endowed Chair of Radiology at the UAB Heersink School of Medicine, and the chief clinical officer for the UAB Medicine ambulatory practice, has led the Department of Radiology for the last 13 years. She also served as the radiology residency program director and vice chair of education.

“Leadership opportunities have been such a fulfilling part of my professional journey, and I am fortunate to have been mentored and perhaps more importantly, sponsored by so many selfless individuals”, said Canon. “I want to pay it forward. I want to see the House of Radiology as the exemplar for diversity with inclusion.”

As a champion for women in medicine and leadership, Canon is the co-creator of LEAD (Leading, Empowering, and Disrupting), an executive women’s leadership development program jointly developed by the Society of Chairs of Academic Radiology Departments (SCARD) and GE Healthcare. She previously served on the executive board as president of Momentum, a Birmingham women’s leadership organization. In recognition of her advocacy for women, she was recognized with the American Association of Women in Radiology highest honor, the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Award in 2020.

“We know diverse teams perform better, and this is true in medicine,” said Canon. “We have struggled with diversity in radiology for decades and have seen minimal improvement. We now have gender parity in medical schools, so we must look for other contributors to the gender problem in radiology. I feel strongly that the lack of diversity of leadership is a significant factor in this gap, and we won’t address our diversity problem until we address diversity of leaders.”

As for advice for women who wish to lead in the medical field, Canon provided some words of guidance.

“Step-up and lead. Find your passion. Set your sights, and develop yourself. Have a cadre of mentors and listen to them. Find your sponsors and engage them. Then lead and pay it forward.”