After surviving the trials of medical school, residency, and day-to-day practice, one could say that radiologists are some of the most resilient people on Earth. But unprecedented change in the U.S. healthcare environment has placed them under an unparalleled level of stress, including escalating time pressures, increasing patient loads, and mounting clerical duties and paperwork.
How should radiologists respond to these increased stressors in daily life? “Resilience is like a muscle,” says Scott N. Taylor, MBA, PhD, associate professor of organizational behavior at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., and Radiology Leadership Institute® (RLI) faculty member. “The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. If you don’t actively work to develop resilience over time — both individually and organizationally — the weaker you become.”
Building Organizational Resilience
According to Sanj Katyal, MD, FACR, president of the Optimal Life Imaging Group, RLI faculty member, and founder of Positive Psychology for Physicians, strengthening the resilience muscle is not just the responsibility of individual physicians. “Healthcare organizations must also build efficient practice environments and foster a culture of wellness to help their physicians flourish,” he says.
For healthcare organizations, resilience is critical to reducing errors, enhancing patient care, and ensuring the sustainability of the workforce. With physician burnout on the rise, it is imperative that radiology practices advance efforts to streamline workflows, build a community of wellness, and support individuals’ pursuit of personal resilience. “From a workflow efficiency perspective, physicians must be allowed to function at the top of their licensure, to do the things that only they can do,” says Katyal.
According to Taylor, organizations must have strategic policies, practices, technologies, and procedures in place that enable them to be resilient. “Within healthcare, it’s amazing that organizations don’t have strategies in place to overhaul clinical workflows and enable physicians to efficiently deliver top-notch care,” he says. “As a result, physician well-being suffers, and doctors are not able to bounce back from disruption.”
Fostering a Culture of Wellness
From an organizational perspective, there’s a strong business case for enhancing physician well-being. “It’s clear that happy radiologists do better. The better we feel, the better we perform,” says Katyal. “We’re more productive, we provide better care, we make fewer mistakes, and we’re more pleasant to be around.”
He adds, “Most physicians are tired of hearing about burnout, because that’s not the real problem. We need to find ways to help radiologists flourish and thrive — both personally and professionally. We need to focus on helping people find more meaning, joy, and fulfillment in their personal and professional life. If we can figure that out, burnout becomes irrelevant.”
Beyond organizational interventions, radiologists can take steps to increase their personal resilience by developing behaviors and attitudes that lead to optimal physical, emotional, and social health (learn more at acr.org/well-being). Skills to build personal resilience include restoring work-life balance, practicing mindfulness, engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy, seeking mental health services, and improving self-confidence and communication skills.1 Research shows that healthy personal behaviors include self-monitoring and self-care, setting limits, and promoting constructive and healthy engagement with (rather than withdrawal from) work challenges.2
“The challenge is focusing your energy and attention on things that really matter and provide the highest yield in terms of joy and meaning in your work life,” says Katyal. “The key question to ask is, ‘How do we take scientific principles from positive psychology and use them to increase our professional fulfillment?’ That’s really what we all want: to go home at the end of the day more fulfilled and more energized and engaged.”
Resilience is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.
Cultivating New Skills
Radiologists can also seek out proven resilience-boosting principles from positive psychology like practicing gratitude and mindfulness and building time into busy schedules for healthy eating, exercise, and sleep. Mentoring others can also help, as can cultivating compassion. Katyal offers an example: “For every tenth case, I connect that particular patient’s age and gender to somebody I know. I imagine reading the case as if it were my aunt, or my child, or my wife. It helps me remember that on the other end of that case list is a patient who’s waiting for my report, often with a lot of anxiety. It humanizes the digital image.”
According to Katyal, “The saying that, ‘If you’re not growing, you’re dying,’ is true. You can’t just sit back and coast, because that’s not a recipe for happiness. Flourishing comes from fully realizing your unique
potential and then using it in the service of something larger than yourself — in our case, that’s our patients, our families, and our communities.”