ACR Bulletin

Covering topics relevant to the practice of radiology

Give Me a Break, Please

Radiologists who shared their stories for a recent ACR Well-Being 360 Report talk about why stepping away from work is essential.

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To not have a break, it’s not safe and not healthy. I grab food and eat at my computer.

—Anonymous participant
August 01, 2023

Taking breaks during the workday is often seen as a luxury. According to a 2017 survey of North American workers, however, regularly stepping away from work by doing things like taking a daily lunch break keeps people more engaged, more satisfied with their jobs and more likely to recommend their employer to others.

Despite these benefits, the majority of radiologists who participated in ACR research for the recent Well-Being 360 Report shared that they did not take breaks, primarily because it would extend their workday. The report examined causes of burnout in radiology and investigated whether and how frequently radiologists took breaks.

Most participants recognized the value of taking a break, with some acknowledging that the lack of a break could impact themselves and patients. Said one anonymous radiologist: “This is such hard stuff that we're doing, and I just need a break. I don’t get a lunch break. To not have a break, it’s not safe and not healthy. I grab food and eat at my computer.” Others noted a work culture that stigmatizes breaks, suggesting that not taking breaks was an unspoken expectation among radiologists.

Everyone’s trying to be as efficient and productive as they can, all the time. It’s hard to sustain that effort.

—Anonymous participant

Carolynn DeBenedectis, MD, addressed the issue in a June 2023 RLI Power Hour webinar titled “Enough is Enough! Actionable Solutions to Burnout.” The co-chair of the ACR Well-Being Committee, under the ACR Commission on Publications and Lifelong Learning led by Lori A. Deitte, MD, FACR, spoke about the hustle culture of radiology and medicine and its effects on how radiologists are taught to view breaks.

“This hustle culture is a problem … get it done, get it all done,” DeBenedectis said. “And if you have time you should be doing more.”

Although uncommon, practices and radiologists can make well-being a priority by offering covered breaks. Some practices offered opportunities for eating and rest with a standard lunch hour. One Well-Being 360 participant used lunch breaks to take a nap, take a walk or visit the doctor’s lounge, on top of another few breaks throughout the day.

How often you can step away from work often depends on the workload, the number of radiologists available to cover that workload at any given time and the subspecialty of the radiologist. Teleradiologist Katie Lozano, MD, said in a 2021 AMA article that she can take frequent breaks without extending her workday: “... even if there are 50 cases in my queue, my workday ends. I have partners logging in wanting to read those cases. In many private practices, you stay until the studies from your shift are done, particularly if they are specific to your area of expertise.”

With the current shortage of radiologists in the workforce, it can be difficult to hire qualified candidates to help alleviate the burden on others. It is nevertheless important for you to protect your well-being, even if that means cutting back on responsibilities or time at work. “Everyone’s trying to be as efficient and productive as they can, all the time,” one participant said. “It’s hard to sustain that effort. Scaling back has helped a little bit in terms of my own expectations of myself — realizing that there's not a lot of external understanding or support for burnout. Well-being has to be something that I redefine for myself.”

For more news, see a full list of the latest ACR Bulletin articles.

Author Raina Keefer  contributing writer, ACR Press