An examination of the medical trainee pipeline shows that existing efforts won’t turn the situation around soon, according to speakers at the North American Radiological Society’s 102nd annual meeting in Chicago.

Johnson Lightfoote, M.D., medical director of the Pomona Valley (Calif.) Hospital Medical Center’s radiology department, said the American College of Radiology is actively studying how to imitate the successes and avoid the mistakes of other organizations and industries that have worked to promote diversity.

Among the first and largest organizations to become successfully integrated was the U.S. military, and Lightfoote showed a 1941 photo of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt flying in a small plane piloted by C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, lead flight instructor for the legendary Tuskegee Institute. Then, Lightfoote proudly showed a photo of him with one of his mentors, Granville Coggs, M.D., a member of the famed all-black Tuskegee Airmen World War II aviator team and a Harvard-trained radiologist who is now 94 and runs in Senior Olympics competitions.

Lightfoote cited studies that show how corporations with more female and minority executives outperform their competitors. The studies don’t prove causation, Lightfoote said, but what these companies have in common is that they show how “diversity helps win the war for talent.” It also helps with decision-making, stronger customer orientation and company image enhancement.

Radiology is losing this battle, however, as Lightfoote detailed in a Journal of the American College of Radiology editorial co-written with his fellow RSNA speakers Curtiland Deville, M.D., co-director of the Johns Hopkins Sibley Prostate Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic in Washington, D.C., and Karen Winkfield, M.D., associate director for cancer health equity at the Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Deville said he’s worried that current statistics remain close to 2010 numbers that showed that just 2.1 percent of practicing diagnostic radiologists and 3.1 percent of diagnostic radiology residents were black.

Barriers identified by Deville include a lack of an affiliated radiology program at the medical schools many black and Hispanic students attend. Also, according to surveys, “patient contact” is a reason many of these students cite for their interest in medicine and radiology is often classified as a nonpatient-facing specialty — although there are moves to change that.

Similarly, surveys have also shown that many women avoid radiology because it is a male-dominated specialty, Deville said.

This does not have to be radiology’s destiny, Deville said, and he pointed to “Diversity in Cardiology,” a deliberate and intentional plan implemented at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center which boosted minority representation in its fellowship training center from zero to near 25 percent in just five years.

Winkfield, who said she was the first black radiation oncologist hired at Massachusetts General Hospital, emphasized that it takes a commitment from healthcare’s leadership ranks to make diversity happen.

“They need to say ‘We need to do this,’” Winkfield said, and she outlined a three-step process of assessment, advocacy and accountability other organizations have used to foster diversity.

The American Hospital Association offers a number of tools and resources for boosting diversity, and is a backer of the #123forEquity campaign.