Q&A: Donna A. Eckstein on why radiologists should adopt healthier workplace habits

Physicians often spend so much time taking care of their patients that they forget to concentrate on their own health and well-being. And considering the sedentary nature of a radiologist’s typical work day—often sitting down to read cases at their computer for hours at a time—this can be even more problematic in radiology than other specialties.

In a recent case study published by the Journal of the American College of Radiology, the authors developed and implemented a nine-week curriculum to educate radiologists and radiology residents about the importance of adopting healthy habits at work. When the curriculum was complete, a majority of specialists said the information was “helpful to extremely helpful” and indicated that they were inspired to change their habits moving forward.

Donna A. Eckstein, MD, department of radiology at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., was the lead author of that study. Eckstein spoke with Radiology Business about her team’s research and why it’s important for radiologists to pay closer attention to this topic. Read the full conversation below:

Radiology Business: What first attracted you to the topic of workplace health and wellness in radiology. Why do you think this is so important?

Donna A. Eckstein, MD: I was always interested in health and wellness in general. And then when I began my radiology residency, I quickly realized how much more sedentary I was during the day than I had been previously.

One of my attendings, Stephanie B. Hanhan, MD, was also really interested in this topic, so she and I got together to see what data was out there that could help the two of us and our colleagues while we work. While doing that research, I was really struck by the fact that, even if you are really active outside of work, it’s not enough to counterbalance being sedentary while you’re at work. That really impressed upon me how important this topic was for radiologists, who are often sitting down for most of the day.

What are some of the simplest, most straightforward things radiologists can do to immediately improve their health and safety on the job?

One of the simplest things anyone can do is getting up throughout the day and walking around. Doing our research, we saw data about taking the stairs, increasing your steps, using a standing desk and so on. Specifically for radiologists, using ergonomically designed tools like desks, chairs and keyboards is also really important to reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries, which can be debilitating.

As part of this project, your team sent out numerous emails to radiologists and radiology residents that covered a variety of topics. How did they respond to receiving those messages?

Initially, I was concerned that they may find the emails kind of intrusive or preachy. However, I received overwhelmingly positive feedback, especially to the image-rich emails that provided straightforward tips about things people could do that are relatively easy to incorporate into their daily lives.

What resources—besides your own analysis, of course—do imaging leaders have if they want to help their employees improve their health habits while on the job?

In our research, we didn’t see much about this topic in radiology specifically, but there’s a lot of information out in the business world. Big corporations have already implemented many of these concepts, because it’s been proven that improving employee health increases productivity and decreases time away from work.

I think more projects similar to ours at other institutions will help build a culture of wellness in radiology. If wellness is something that is part of an organization’s culture, it’s much easier for individuals to work these activities into their workday.

For example, at our institution, as a result of this project, more people wanted information about these topics. We’ve now incorporated this into our formal curriculum going forward by having guest lecturers and journal clubs, so it’s something that we’re having continuing discussions about to keep it on peoples’ minds throughout the day.

Now that your team’s case study has been published, are you pleased with how it has been received?

I’ve been really pleased to see how positive the response has been to this project. As physicians, we can sometimes put our own health and wellness at the bottom of our list of priorities, but spending a small amount of time to think about your own wellness is going to improve your ability to do your job and increase the longevity of your career. It should be a priority to all physicians, especially radiologists.