Even as a young girl in Montreal, Barbara Raphael, M.D., felt a clear sense of purpose. She wanted to be a physician.

“Medical school was always at the forefront of my mind. I never thought of anything else,” said Dr. Raphael, a radiologist who is board certified in both diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine, with fellowship training in oncologic and molecular imaging. “Thankfully, it worked out well, and I love what I do.”

More Females are Choosing Radiology

Dr. Raphael serves as the Chief of Nuclear Medicine for Memorial Healthcare System and Medical Director of PET Imaging Institute of South Florida (PIISF). Although radiology is not a specialty commonly chosen by women, she says she finds radiology and cancer imaging incredibly fulfilling.

Females have always been underrepresented in radiology in the United States, especially among radiology vice-chairs, department chairs and section chiefs. According to a 2018 study in the American Journal of Radiology,  less than 25 percent of radiologists practicing in the U.S. are female. Globally, the U.S. is at the bottom of the list when it comes to diversity in radiology.

Lower female prevalence in radiology has never deterred Dr. Raphael’s pursuit. In fact, it may have fueled it. To achieve her specialized niche, she completed a residency in nuclear medicine at Saint-Vincent Catholic Medical Center in New York City and a residency in diagnostic radiology at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, where she served as chief resident her final year.

She also completed two fellowships in nuclear oncology (PET/CT) and body imaging at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Raphael says she was very fortunate to have a female, Hedvic Hricak, M.D., Ph.D., as the chair of Radiology during her fellowship at Sloan Kettering. “I happened to be a trainee and junior attending at the right time, so I could see that anything was possible. Hopefully, sharing my story will inspire other young female physicians to pursue careers in radiology.”

Last year, Dr. Raphael became the third female partner in her radiology group. She also was elected to serve on the Management Committee. Perhaps someday there may be an equal distribution of male and female partners, but joining the partnership means long hours and being away from family. “It’s not that the group does not want more women partners,” she observed, “Being a partner requires a full-time schedule, but many women in our group prefer to be part-time.”

Trends are changing, though, she observed, and more females are selecting radiology as their focus and pursuing leadership roles. In the past three years, about five or six female radiologists have joined the team at Memorial Healthcare, and Dr. Raphael feels this is exciting. She said having more female radiologists makes their team stronger. “I appreciate our female physicians because they bring sensitivity, comradery and a keen ability to relate to patients,” she said. “They are also excellent communicators.”

Diversity in Medicine

Cultural diversity is also essential in the medical field, especially in South Florida. Dr. Raphael appreciates the unique qualities that each physician in practice can offer. Diversity among physicians enhances patient care. “There’s nothing like going to someone who looks like you or who has undergone what you have undergone. Medicine is more effective when you understand the culture,” she said. “I have found cultural understanding to be a key element in compliance with treatment.”

Dr. Raphael’s cultural sensitivity is evident in her volunteering. Currently, she serves as the vice president of the Haitian Doctor’s Association, a nonprofit organization. This group is especially close to her heart because she is of Haitian descent. Doctors from multiple specialty areas come together to hold community-based events, educational presentations and free primary care clinics for patients in need.

Accentuating Each Other’s Strengths

Being a young physician leader can be challenging, but sometimes it helps to change one’s perspective. She explained, “Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but I choose to focus on my staff’s strengths. I strive to empower my staff to grow professionally, and I am privileged to help provide guidance.”

Good leadership also requires creativity and thinking outside the box. “Recently, we changed and rotated tasks within the PET center to complement the specific skill set of each staff member. When we maximize one another’s strengths, our center functions more efficiently and morale improves.”

Dr. Raphael shared that she is grateful for the Envision Physician Services leaders who have helped her grow professionally. She’s thankful for her chief, Benjamin Freedman, M.D., who supported her as she transitioned to Chief of Nuclear Medicine for Memorial Healthcare System, and several others in her practice who have also been incredibly supportive. She is also grateful for Maria Rodriguez, M.D., MBA, who promotes diversity with her voice and presence, and who provides a wide array of opportunities to young physicians.

Finding Contentment

How does a young, ambitious female radiologist and mother of two little girls balance the expectations of work and home?  “Achieving balance is easier now that I have progressed in my career,” Dr. Raphael calmly remarked. “Every day, I give my all to my patients, and I come home and do the same for my children and for my family.”

Self-care is essential, especially for female physicians. “Women naturally take on the role of nurturer, caring for husbands, children and aging parents. We become the nurturers of everyone except ourselves.” But Dr. Raphael said she is intentional about making time for herself. This means going out with friends and taking all of her allotted vacation days. Whether she’s relaxing at home with her daughters or catching some sun on the glamorous French Riviera, she practices good self-care so she can provide excellent care to her patients and staff.

“I’ve definitely found a way to be content in life. It’s hard to complain when you like what you do and you see there’s a purpose for it. I’m happy that I have this niche of expertise and that it makes a difference”.