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Relieving the Burden

As physicians, we’re all searching for strategies to thrive in a demanding environment.
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Burnout is still higher among physicians as a whole when compared to the rest of the working population.

May 02, 2019

We know that healthy physicians take the best care of their patients, provide a happy workplace environment, and can reduce costs while boosting value. But what happens when they burn out? Burnout — a work-related syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a sense of reduced personal accomplishment — inversely impacts quality of care, patient satisfaction, productivity, and access to care.1 Although rates vary at different stages of physicians’ careers, burnout is still higher among physicians as a whole when compared to the rest of the working population.2 And some believe radiologists are particularly prone to its disruptive and far-reaching consequences. Burnout can lead to depression, substance abuse, and suicide. It is also linked to inappropriate workplace behavior, reduced productivity, absenteeism, and staff turnover.3,4

In 2018, the ACR Commission on Human Resources asked about burnout for the first time in its annual workforce survey sent to radiology practice leaders. The survey found that while 78 percent of radiologists, mid-level providers, and physicists reported burnout being a significant problem in their workplace, only 19 percent reported having mechanisms for assessing the condition. And only 21 percent said they had effective ways of addressing it.5

While a number of online resources offer personal wellness solutions, gaps exist in developing effective, actionable organizational strategies that can lead to sustained workplace improvements. To foster wellness in our imaging workplace, the August 2018 Intersociety Summer Conference focused on four themes that practices, departments, wellness committees, organizations, and societies can employ to frame their improvement efforts.

  1. Measure and benchmark wellness and burnout.
  2. Foster the development of high-functioning teams.
  3. Develop and nurture effective leaders.
  4. Amplify our voice at the organizational and national levels.1 

Recognizing the urgency of rising burnout, the Commission on Human Resources and the Commission on Publications and Lifelong Learning have created a program to provide data, resources, and strategies to promote radiologist well-being. This program — slated to launch at ACR 2019 — will include a well-being self-assessment, a toolkit of resources for recovery, and an educational curriculum for work/life balance. The Mayo Clinic’s Well-Being Index will be used to inform participants about their own level of well-being. Results will be anonymous and complimentary to all ACR members — including members-in-training and affiliated medical students — as a value-added resource. Aggregated and anonymized data on member wellness will be measured and shared to influence leaders of organizations to change systemic conditions that cause burnout among radiologists.

We know that burnout has been identified, defined, and assessed by many groups. Now, what we need are actual solutions. To best serve our patients and sustain an engaged workforce, now is the time for us to collectively and effectively confront this crisis.

Author Geraldine B. McGinty, MD, MBA, FACR,  Chair, ACR