Feature article

Decreasing radiologist burnout

Burnout is common in the health care field, with as many as 42 percent of all American physicians reporting symptoms during 2018. But it's a growing concern in radiology, which, according to the 2018 Medscape National Physician Burnout and Depression Report, is within the top 10 fields for highest reports of burnout.1 It's not a problem limited to American radiologists, either. In a study published by the Canadian Association of Radiologists, professionals in this niche reported above average experience with burnout symptoms.2

Understanding burnout, its impact and how to proactively combat it lets professionals and employers take action to battle this growing trend and protect both radiologists and their patients.

What Is radiologist burnout?

Burnout occurs when someone becomes so emotionally exhausted with their position that they feel a constant decreased sense of accomplishment and motivation. In a health care setting, they may also feel depersonalization, which makes them less likely to face patient issues with an appropriate level of compassion and care.

It's important to note that burnout is not the same thing as being stressed or even tired. Health care workers deal with physical exhaustion and stress on a regular basis; exhaustion may be the standard way a radiologist leaves every shift. But a stressful or tiring day is something you can recover from with rest and self-care. And even during stress or exhaustion, you can still care for patients in a personal, compassionate manner.

Burnout is a state that occurs when stress, exhaustion and other factors compound and someone can no longer recover, so they remain in this state. They begin to lose touch with why they became a radiologist to begin with and they may care less and less about the outcome of each case or task.

The impact of radiologist burnout

Burnout can impact a radiologist's own mental and physical health, which leads to a potential impact on the health of the patient. When someone is experiencing burnout, they may make more errors or not be as productive as needed.1 That leads to potential patient injury or misdiagnosis or cost factors for employers.

On top of making errors in patient treatment, burnout can lead individuals to:

  • Engage in unprofessional behavior
  • Contemplate suicide or self-harm
  • Be absent from work more than normal
  • Retire early or change career3

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Combating radiologist burnout

Burnout is something that must be addressed by both individual professionals and the organizations that employ them. Rather than addressing burnout after it occurs, most experts say the best approach is proactive. By learning to recognize symptoms of oncoming burnout and acting to reduce stress and re-engage someone with their job, you can help reduce the instances of burnout in radiology. That supports a consistently more positive outcome for radiology professionals, their patients and health care organizations.

Facilities can reduce burnout by:

  • Supporting strong teams that ensure regular interaction and support between health care professionals
  • Aligning radiologists with appropriate work by ensuring professionals are given work they enjoy as much as possible and avoiding scenarios where individuals are relied upon in areas they may not be certified or skilled in
  • Reducing administration time that can take away a radiologist's ability to truly impact patient care
  • Developing proactive assessment methods that allow caring leadership to determine when a health care professional may be struggling and offer appropriate assistance

A radiologist can reduce their own chance of burnout by:

  • Developing strong self-care habits that help them recover regularly from physical, mental and emotional stressors
  • Taking time off during the year for vacation or personal days
  • Revisiting their reason for entering the field to regularly contemplate the good work they are doing and why they want to do it
  • Working with others to create a positive team culture that helps all health care professionals avoid burnout and deliver excellent patient care

References

1. Deborah Abrams Kaplan. "Stop Burnout in Radiology Before It Starts." Diagnostic Imaging. 27 February 2018. Web. 21 December 2018. <http://www.diagnosticimaging.com/di-executive/stop-burnout-radiology-it-starts>.

2. N. Zha, et. al. "Prevalence of Burnout Among Canadian Radiologists and Radiology Trainees." Canadian Association of Radiologists. November 2018.  Web. 21 December 2018. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30270152>.

3. J.A. Harolds, et. al. "Burnout of Radiologists: Frequency, Risk Factors, and Remedies: A Report of the ACR Commission on Human Resources." Journal of the American College of Radiology. April 2016. Web. 21 December 2018. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26768546>.