3 ways a pediatric radiology labor shortage could make an impact

Demand for pediatric radiologists is currently outpacing the supply, according to a new analysis published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology. What could this trend mean going forward?

Cory M. Pfeifer, MD, MS, department of radiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, noted that fellowship interest in pediatric radiology experienced “progressive declines” from 2013 to 2018—and its struggle seem to be continuing.

“In reassessing fellowship participation in 2018 to 2019, pediatric radiology hardly recovered, with only four more accredited pediatric radiology fellows in training early in 2019 compared with 2018,” Pfeifer wrote. “Data from the Alliance of Academic Chief Residents in Radiology predict that enrollment in pediatric radiology fellowship participation will continue to wane.”

As demand soars and interest fades, he added, “pediatric radiologists have reported alarming rates of burnout.”

These are three ways the ongoing labor shortage could impact patient care in the years ahead:

1. Quality could suffer

There might be fewer pediatric radiologists, Pfeifer noted, but that doesn’t mean there will be fewer patients who need help. Some patients may end up receiving care from specialists who don’t have an extensive background in medical imaging.

“Staffing with appropriately trained radiologists is essential to our patients,” he wrote. “Without enough pediatric radiologists and qualified technologists, revenue-producing procedures such as ultrasound may shift to nonradiologist clinicians.”

Pfeifer also explained that pediatricians are starting to be more involved in bedside ultrasound services, “yielding more and more minimally invasive procedures to radiologists.” This uptake in imaging utilization coming at a time when there may be fewer pediatric radiologists on hand is a perfect storm for a stressful work environment.

2. Salaries could stall

Labor shortages can cause “percentile benchmarks for productivity” to rise, which makes negotiating an improved salary increasingly difficult. Also, Pfeifer noted, the subspecialty’s struggles could result in leadership hires that have a long-term impact on salaries.

“If pediatric radiology leaders are not replaced with experienced replacements, employers can hire lesser qualified leaders at discounted rates with long-term consequences for future salary,” he wrote. “Inadequate salary growth has a further effect on the ability to recruit new radiologists in a cycle certain to risk quality and patient safety moving forward.”

3. Turnover, unhappiness could increase

When departments have fewer pediatric radiologists on hand, it can become more difficult for those who are employed to get time off or other expected benefits.

“The inability to give radiologists time off can increase turnover and damage the division further,” Pfeiffer wrote.

But what can be done?

So what can departments due to bring in more pediatric radiologists in this shrinking job market?  Pfeiffer provided several ideas in his analysis, including the development of more creative hiring practices and working to appear as attractive as possible to all potential hires.

“Offering a professional, honest, and transparent interview experience with a timely decision and reimbursement for expenses shows that the facility employs leaders of high character,” he wrote. “This explains why the major children’s hospitals in Denver and Cincinnati have not suffered from extended employment deficiencies in the current climate.”