Me, me, me: Exploring the rise of careerism in radiology

Many corporate employees look at each job as a stepping stone to the next, worried more about their next big promotion than actually doing a good job in the first place. This me-first attitude is being found more and more in radiology, according to a new article published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, and it’s having a negative impact on the industry as a whole.

The analysis was written by Richard B. Gunderman, MD, PhD, department of radiology at Indiana University in Indianapolis, and Frank J. Lexa, MD, MBA, chief medical officer of the American College of Radiology’s Radiology Leadership Institute and an adjunct professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Both authors are veterans of the imaging industry and have witnessed such careerism firsthand.

“Unfortunately, this kind of self-interested careerism takes a toll not only on the organizations at which these individuals spend a few years before moving onward and upward, but also on the careerists themselves, many of whom are unable to find any real satisfaction in the roles they play at any particular time,” the authors wrote. “They are so busy planning their next move that, except for burnishing their curricula vitae, they pay relatively little attention to the culture they are working in and the people who inhabit it.”

One specific problem with careerism, Gunderman and Lexa explained, is that it puts too much emphasis on an individual’s title and makes it seem as if that title is all that matters. “Titles provide little insight into the quality or importance of the work people do,” the authors wrote.

Chief administrators of large organizations are one example brought up in the analysis. A chief administrator may hold a key title, but he or she does not spend much time doing “truly creative work” because they are too busy with their administration duties. The individuals who do that creative work, then, may have a title that ranks behind chief administrator, but are still incredibly important.

Gunderman and Lexa detailed another significant problem with careerism in radiology: it does real damage to the organizations themselves. When employees are only worried about moving on, they don’t take an interest in their colleagues or care about creating a positive work environment. When this an employee’s attitude, they assume the organization they belong to is just like any other; they don’t try to understand the people, the culture, the rules or anything else.

“An organization is not just a machine composed of interchangeable parts,” the authors wrote.
“It is also an organism, with its own heart and soul. To serve the organization effectively, it is necessary not only to take charge of it but to know it. To suppose that every radiology department, hospital, or medical school is fundamentally the same is to fail to know what they really are.”

So how can radiology avoid being consumed by careerist impulses? It comes down to leadership. Radiology groups and departments need people in leadership positions who care about everyone they work with and are committed to the future.

“Being a physician and successfully contributing to organizations and communities requires a level and length of commitment that is inconsistent with the careerist’s short game,” the authors concluded. “We need more people who operate with a wider, deeper and longer-term commitment.”