Roles in radiology, research, plus a private life?

Professor Maria Cova is one of the two women Board Members of the Italian Society of Radiology (SIRM), of which she was Vice President from 2004-2006.

Apart from spending a year at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, Baltimore, USA, the professor has never worked anywhere other than at the Radiology Department at the University Hospital of Cattinara Hospital, Trieste, of which she is Chairman.
Daniela Zimmermann asked her about what women can achieve in this field, as well as the professor's own multifarious roles and research activities.

Professor Maria Cova
Professor Maria Cova

DZ: What does your role as a Board Member of the Italian Society of Radiology entail?
MC: The Society is subdivided in many scientific sections, subspecialties such as neuroradiology vascualar and interventional radiology, and so on. My function is to co-ordinate the presidents of these subspecialties, mainly with the aim of attracting more young scientists.

How many women do you support in this way?
MC: Actually, very few. The Board has only two. The problem is that, although there are a lot of female radiology residents and a lot of women actually work as radiologists, only very few reach top positions. So far there are few, but I hope in the future more and more women will be motivated to work harder to reach top positions in radiology.

Are they held up because they marry or change professions?
No, they stay in the profession, but it’s very tough for them to co-ordinate and manage everything.

How did you achieve this?
First, I really like my job – that’s very important. Second, I am ambitious — to succeed, you need to be. Third, you also need to be feminine. Also, I’ve always done my best to reach where I wanted to reach and then, I have to add, you must be lucky. In my case, things always went right. I chose Trieste, did my exams here, went to America and returned here with my post doctorate. I became Assistant Professor, then Associated Professor and, in 2004, full Professor. That sounds easy, but it was hard work and women must sometimes even work a bit harder. You must always combine the job with your private life. I’m not married and have no children, but I do have a very active private life – which naturally I don’t want to miss. So I’ve always done my best for work, but what I’ve borne in mind that I wanted to preserve my inner self. I am very proud to say this attitude has worked, so far. Of course I’m diplomatic, but I would never change myself only to find a compromise. The most important thing for me is to keep myself balanced.

What about your work at the hospital?
I’m Chairman of the Radiology Department at the University Hospital, so I not only manage the department, the patients and so on, but also have various teaching functions. It’s really what I like most! I would never give it up. I am also Director of the postgraduate School of Radiology and Director of the Radiographer’s Degree Course in Trieste. And, I carry out research, with a focus on MRI and, within that, muscular-skeletal research, particularly on articular cartilage. Using MRI you can get morphological information as well as biochemical information. So the aim is to use MRI to see the changes that cannot be seen by changing morphology — biochemical changes. You can do it today.  I’m also working on the technical aspect of MRI, just optimising the technique. In this field I work with physicists and with the Department of Biochemistry, so there’s a very good, dedicated team. We are aiming to get with the right technical sequence, in a short time, both the morphological and biochemical data.

Using contrast media and molecular imaging would be the greatest tool to obtain this result.
Have you already reached the professional level you want?
At the moment, I’m very happy with my position because there are still challenges and managing a department means you have to learn something new every day. And, I’m not a one-man-show: I strongly believe in teamwork and I work with a wonderful team. In a team everyone has the chance to give his or her best and every single person has a special quality that can lead to perfect results.
Of course I’m always open for opportunities that may arrive, but I’m totally satisfied with all that I must deal with every day. I cannot imagine anything better, from the point of view of a 47-year-old woman who loves radiology.


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