2 common situations that lead to burnout in radiology and what can be done to avoid them

Burnout is higher in radiology than many other specialties, leaving leaders in search of potential ways to reverse that trend before it gets even worse. A recent analysis in Current Problems in Diagnostic Radiology explored this issue, with the authors crafting fictional “case vignettes” that showed exactly how burnout can creep into a work environment and cause issues almost immediately.

The authors focused on two common situations that lead to burnout in radiology: weak leadership skills and feelings of isolation.

Situation 1: Being surrounded by weak leadership

In the first case vignette, the authors introduced “Steve,” a radiologist who had a positive outlook at first. Steve was then asked to lead a committee, however, and the committee didn’t take his opinions seriously. It made him feel powerless, and even when he would complete significant goals for the committee, nobody seemed to be paying attention. He did not feel valuable to the rest of his team.

Steve’s suffering represents a common problem in radiology: poor frontline leadership skills. Communication at Steve’s practice was poor, and he did not receive the proper amount of feedback. “In this vignette, poor communication served to promote a diminished sense of accomplishment in a physician initially engaged and productive demonstrating how lack of leadership training may contribute to physician burnout while depicting burnout as a fluid state, determined to a large degree by external forces,” wrote lead author Nicole Restauri, MD, department of radiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, and colleagues.

So what can be done?

Physicians often receive insufficient, ineffective leadership training, which has a negative impact on all future employees. If Steve’s leaders in the above example had been trained properly, they may have paid more attention to his perspective and praised him for achieving certain goals.

In addition, the authors added, leaders should regularly receive feedback about how they’re doing. When leaders are evaluated regularly, it makes them focus more on their actions. “As ineffective leaders can undermine wellness culture and productivity of a health care organization, regular assessment of leadership performance, productive feedback, and skills training may serve to create a transparent workplace environment that encourages the flow of communication,” the authors wrote.

Situation 2: Feeling isolated

In the second case vignette, the authors introduced “John,” who moved from a small practice where everyone communicated regularly to an academic setting where he rarely interacted with his own colleagues. It didn’t take long for this change to have a negative impact on John; he felt stressed and isolated on a regular basis.

“Increasing isolation played a significant role in developing symptoms of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization as demonstrated by the physician in case vignette 2,” the authors wrote. “The depersonalization component of burnout describes feelings of cynicism or detachment from the job illustrated by sentiments in the earlier scenario describing a perceived inability to impact patient care (cynicism) and a feeling that 'a machine could do the job,' indicating detachment.”

So what can be done?

Restauri’s team explained that engagement is key when it comes to dealing with isolation. They also recommend that physicians work to increase their visibility and participation in providing patient care. In addition, leaders can help avoid these negative feelings by reducing clerical work whenever possible. Less paperwork and more time, say, taking part in a multidisciplinary team can boost a radiologist’s morale by a considerable margin.