Radiologists still making an impact late into their careers

Radiologists 31-40 years into their careers remain incredibly important to patient care in the United States, according to a new study published in Academic Radiology.

The study’s authors noted that these “later-career radiologists” represent a significant portion of the national radiology workforce. The more we know about these specialists, they added, the more we can learn about the workforce as a whole.

“The practice patterns of this cohort, in terms of both the volume and distribution of rendered services, stand to greatly impact the practice patterns of radiologists of all career stages,” wrote Andrew B. Rosenkrantz, MD, MPA, NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, and colleagues. “However, there is limited objective data comparing the practices of early-, mid-, and later-career radiologists.”

The authors used publicly available CMS data from 2016 to examine the current national radiologist workforce in the United States. All radiologists who had graduated medical school within five years were excluded, since they are likely to still be residents. All other radiologists were then separated into 10-year windows: ≤ 10 years post-residency, 11-20 years post-residency, 21-30 years post-residency, and so on.

The study included more than 28,000 radiologists who had completed their residency. Overall, 32.7% were ≤ 10 years post-residency, 29.3% were 11-20 years post-residency, 25% were 21-30 years post-residency, 10.5% were 31-40 years post-residency, 2.4% were 41-50 years post-residency and 0.1% were ≥ 51 years post-residency. The percentage of female radiologists decreased with each passing group, going from 26.4% of the ≤ 10 years post-residency group to 0% of the ≥ 51 years post-residency group. The percentage of rural radiologists was less than 3.2% for the first five groups, but 8.8% for the ≥ 51 years post-residency group.

Billed clinical work, when normalized to a mean of 1.00 among all radiologists, fell in a range of 0.92 to 1.07 for radiologists 1-40 years post-residency. That number decreased to 0.64 for the 41-50 years post-residency group, however, and 0.43 for the ≥ 51 years post-residency group. Of the total billed clinical work performed by all radiologists, 30.7% was performed by radiologists in the ≤ 10 years post-residency group and 31.5% was performed by the 11-20 years post-residency group. The percentage then started to shrink noticeably, going from 26.6% for the 21-30 years post-residency group to 9.6% for the 31-40 years post-residency group, 1.6% for the 41-50 years post-residency group and 0.1% for the ≥ 51 years post-residency group.

Though the number of radiologists in the national workforce drops significantly once you reach the 31-40 years post-residency group, Rosenkrantz et al. noted that specialists in that group were still responsible for similar percentages of billed clinical work related to CT and MR imaging. CT scans represented 34.7%-38.6% of billed clinical work for radiologists 1-30 years post-residency, for example, and 31.5% for the 31-40 years post-residency group. And MRI scans represented 13.9%-14.3% of billed clinical work for radiologists 1-30 years post-residency, and 11.2% for the 31-40 years post-residency group.

“The findings indicate that despite an abrupt and dramatic decline in the number of radiologists in the workforce beyond 30 years following residency, those who do continue to work provide substantial contributions that can be of great value in the current workforce constrained environment,” the authors wrote. “With many radiology practices continuing to prioritize the wRVU output of their radiologists (potentially de-emphasizing important nonclinical work that we are unable to measure in our present investigation), our findings suggest that such later-career radiologists continue to contribute substantially—in both volume and scope—to radiology practices’ overall clinical workloads similar to their earlier-career counterparts.”

These findings, the team added, “support the critical role of later-career radiologists” and “the potential impact on early- and mid-career radiologists if this component of the radiologist workforce were to be displaced.”

“Strategies to retain later-career radiologists within the national workforce for additional years could be beneficial for allowing radiologists to continue to meet growing clinical demands and mitigate burnout in earlier-career radiologists,” they concluded.


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