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#WomenWhoCurie highlights female radiation oncologists

Published on Monday, November 19, 2018

Media Contact: Cynthia Wall, cwall@umc.edu

When modern-day female radiation oncologists look to history, they find mostly male pioneers, with one exception: Marie Curie, a two-time Nobel Prize winner for her research in using radiation as therapy.

To raise awareness of women radiation oncologists and that career path, Dr. Ashley Albert, chief resident in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and other members of the Society for Women in Radiation Oncology came up with a social media strategy. On November 7, their hashtag #WomenWhoCurie quickly became a viral success.

Albert, a founding SWRO member and a member of its executive committee, suggested using an idea similar to #ILookLikeASurgeon and #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaigns that sought to recognize women in those specialties.

“Someone else came up with #WomenWhoCurie,” said Albert, a fourth-year resident in the department that is part of the UMMC Cancer Institute.

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Dr. Ashley Albert, radiation oncology chief resident, visits with Dr. Srinivasan Vijayakumar, department chair.

“We were excited to find out that Madame Curie’s birthday was coming up two weeks after we had that meeting,” Albert said. So the SWRO members, about 150 strong, set out to mobilize their 400 or so Twitter followers to take photos of themselves and their colleagues with unique hashtags like #WomenWhoCurie #ILookLikeARadOnc #RadOncDiversity  and #HeForShe to highlight the need for more women in the field.

They started posting photos on what would have been Curie’s 151st birthday.

“We want to provide support for other women in this field,” Albert said. “Our main concern is there hasn’t been an increase in the number of female trainees. We want to highlight this as a good choice.”

Her fellow residents, physicians and the UMMC Radiation Oncology staff are supportive, Albert said. All work in a field that uses radiation to treat cancers and some other diseases.

Dr. Srinivasan Vijayakumar, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology, points to his chief resident as a “very good, very knowledgeable clinician and a very compassionate woman.”

“I’m very proud of what she’s done,” he said.

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Albert discusses a patient's treatment plan with Dr. Hiba Ahmed, a first-year radiation oncology resident.

The department currently has two female residents. That’s a good reflection on the department, Albert said.

“It is so important that we have more female clinicians,” Vijayakumar said.

SWRO hopes to make Nov. 7 an annual observance. “In addition to recognizing female radiation oncologists, we also want to recognize other females, nurses, dosimetrists, physicists and others, because radiation oncology is a team effort,” Albert said.

SWRO was conceived at an American College of Radiation Oncology meeting when several women female radiation oncologists realized there was a gender gap. Their Twitter effort gained support from multiple organizations, including the American Society for Radiation Oncology.

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Radiation oncology residents, from left, Dr. Toms Thomas, Dr. Ashley Albert, Dr. Hiba Ahmed and Dr. Maurice King, participate in the #WomenWhoCurie campaign by posting photos to their social media accounts and to the Cancer Institute's Facebook page.

The SWRO immediate goals are:

  • To celebrate female radiation oncologists worldwide who are providing cancer treatment and doing research.
  • To increase awareness of radiation oncology as a medical specialty.
  • To increase interest in the field among female medical students who are interested in oncology.

Engagement results on Twitter show their first awareness effort was a success.

Social media calculators show that in just under 30 hours, a total of 2,000 tweets were shared by 720 contributors, representing a potential 3.4 million views, Albert said.

Find the post at #WomenWhoCurie