A new way to battle burnout in radiology

As burnout continues to be a problem in radiology, what can be done to prevent it from getting even worse? According to a new commentary published in Academic Radiology, it’s time for the specialty to approach this issue from a new, more positive point of view.

“Medical students, residents, fellows, and newly qualified radiologists need to master core knowledge and skills, but they also need to develop habits that enable them to find fulfillment in their careers and build and sustain the kinds of organizations that promote it,” wrote Richard B. Gunderman, MD, PhD, department of radiology at Indiana University in Indianapolis. “By teaching more effective approaches to burnout, we can place the profession's future on a firmer foundation.”

Gunderman suggested that radiology embrace appreciative inquiry, a problem-solving method that involves focusing on the positive side of any situation instead of dwelling on the negative. If radiologists only talk about how isolated it can feel to be in a reading room, for example, then they will accept things the way they are and lose hope that things could potentially improve.

“A substantial difficulty with much discourse around burnout is the supposition that we lack the resources necessary to solve the problem,” Gunderman wrote. “Too often, we suppose that radiologists and radiology organizations need help from outside experts. The implicit assumption is this: so long as radiologists and radiology organizations have only themselves to rely on, we are doomed.”

Over time, he noted, radiologists can talk about burnout so much that they just “get better and better at burning out” instead of actually improving in any way. It’s not that burnout is something specialists make up, of course—it’s just that nobody is even considering the positive side of what radiologists do on a daily basis.

“Appreciative inquiry urges us to stop seeing burnout as a kind of mental illness begging for a cure, and instead to focus on the sources of joy and fulfillment in work,” Gunderman wrote. “By shifting our conversations to what works well, we can find new opportunities to improve.” 

Gunderman also emphasized that appreciative inquiry is in no way an invitation to ignore burnout or let things stay unchanged. Instead, it can help leaders think of new, innovative ways to improve morale among their employees. If radiologists realize their favorite part of their job is interacting with patients, for example, the key to making burnout less likely may be to get them more directly involved with patients.