ACR Bulletin

Covering topics relevant to the practice of radiology

A Vaccine for Burnout

A pediatric radiologist shares how his work has kept him focused on his mission to help children — and helped him maintain his professional fulfillment.
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When we get overwhelmed, we remember that we’re all here for the kids.

December 01, 2019

The primary motivation for radiologists’ involvement in the global health community is to address the disparities in access to imaging services; however, being part of that community can also play a role in reducing burnout and increasing professional fulfillment.1 This has been the experience of Hansel J. Otero, MD, director of international pediatric radiology education and outreach at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Otero, who was recently named the 2019 Bruce J. Hillman Fellow in Scholarly Publishing, has participated in educational missions to Haiti, Ghana, and Ethiopia, and he was recently appointed as director of outreach for the World Federation of Pediatric Imaging. The Bulletin spoke with Otero to discuss how he has found meaning in his work as a pediatric radiologist.

How has your international work helped you stay focused on your mission to help kids?

One of the advantages of working in low-resource settings — and this is true within or outside the U.S. — is that the systems are simpler, less complicated. When you see how one study affects a family and you stay there for the outcome or when you teach someone how to do a procedure and see how the implementation helps patients — it’s a lot easier to see that impact in smaller departments or rural clinics. Last year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, one of the residents took an interest in brain US. I was fortunate to be able to teach him how to get better images and how to interpret certain findings, resulting in the adoption of the test as screening for preemies. It’s gratifying to see our effort resulting in a new service and in improved communication between the neonatal intensive care unit and the families who now have more information about long-term prognosis. Sometimes, when working in big hospitals, it’s hard to see those types of results, as you often only hear feedback when you don’t get something right.

How do you avoid burnout as a pediatric radiologist?

People typically think that working with children is hard or that the work might be particularly onerous — but I think it’s the opposite. I believe the nature of my work serves as a vaccine against burnout. One of the important solutions to burnout is to do work that is meaningful and to feel like you are part of an enterprise that is making a difference. For me, working at a children’s hospital and feeling part of a team, having interaction with patients, and knowing I’m improving the lives of those patients and their families — to me that is the best way to not get burned out.

Being a pediatric radiologist, I spend a little less time in the traditional dark room and more time interacting with referring physicians, patients, and families. For example, our team does a fair amount of screening for newborns who come in because their heads are big for their age or their pediatricians heard a click on their hips. To me, the satisfaction of entering a room and reassuring parents that their newborn is fine — that is one of the best parts of my job.

I believe the nature of my work serves as a vaccine against burnout.

Why is it important for radiologists to practice patient-and family-centered care?

When we all pay more attention to what the family or the patient is going through and we all agree that we’re there to improve the patient experience, then everything functions a lot better. Sometimes we ask colleagues to go above their usual duties for a patient. They may already be tired or behind, so their first response is, “No, I don’t want to do it.” However, if you remind them that we have an opportunity to improve a patient’s experience or to bring some relief or information to the family, then they change their minds. This makes the work environment at pediatric hospitals, in general, nicer — because even when we get overwhelmed, we remember that we’re all here for the kids.

ENDNOTES

1. Kline AD, Harford JS, Culp MP. Does involvement in global health reduce perceived radiologist burnout? J Am Coll of Radiol. 2018;15(8):1196-1198.