Under pressure: 3 key takeaways from a new survey on burnout in radiology

Burnout is found in all healthcare specialties, but what about radiology specifically? Jeffrey P. Guenette, MD, and Stacy E. Smith, MD, of the department of radiology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, surveyed resident members of the New England Roentgen Ray Society to explore the seriousness of burnout in radiology.

“Burnout leads to decreased productivity and effectiveness, reduced commitment to the job, and negative effects on home life,” the authors wrote. “Those suffering from burnout are reported to have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, systemic inflammation, and impaired immunity”

These are three key takeaways from their research, which was published in the American Journal of Roentgenology:

  1. Radiology residents reported high levels of emotional exhaustion (EE) and depersonalization (DP)—but those numbers are still relatively low

Guenette and Smith found that 37 percent of respondents reported feeling EE, and 48 percent reported feeling DP. These numbers are high, but they could have theoretically been much higher. “The rates of a high degree of EE and DP are also low relative to those reported by residents in other specialties,” the authors wrote.

The high level of DP is similar to what was reported in another burnout-related study in 2013 (Acad Radiol. 2013 May;20(5):647-55), but the EE number is considerably lower.

  1. Radiology residents reported a low level of personal accomplishment (PA)

One half of respondents reported low PA, a significant enough number that the authors suggested further research may be helpful.

“We highly encourage further work exploring PA because increasing the degree of PA of radiology residents may have a substantial impact on reducing the degree of radiology resident burnout,” the authors wrote. “Furthermore, because of the results of this study of New England radiology residents, a national study to assess the overall state of burn-out in radiology residents appears warranted.”

  1. It’s unclear what specific actions could lead to reduced burnout in radiology

The only clear predictor of EE and DP was a resident’s postgraduate year, making it more difficult for the authors to suggest specific ways leaders in radiology can work to keep burnout numbers low. However, the authors did pass on wisdom from Christina Maslach, PhD, who said in 2001 that individual strategies often fail to reduce burnout because larger “organizational factors” are what is to blame (Annu Rev Psychol. 2001;52:397-422). Imaging leaders looking to minimize burnout, then, may want to take a big-picture approach when considering changes.

Concluding their study, Guenette and Smith noted that they were limited by “potential response bias attributable to nonresponders and inaccurate self-reporting.” Also, because they wanted to ensure individual regionality, the data was anonymous, meaning “bias toward specific training programs cannot be evaluated.”