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Dr. Richard Gunderman at ARRS 2017

ARRS 2017: What's the cure for radiologist burnout?

by Lauren Dubinsky , Senior Reporter
"The real question here isn't whether you do good work — it's whether you're fulfilled in the work you do," Dr. Richard Gunderman, professor and chairman of the department of radiology at Indiana University, told the audience at the ARRS annual meeting in New Orleans.

Research shows that about 40 percent of U.S. physicians experience burnout, according to the American Medical Association. That's 10 percent higher than the general population.

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In his session on Monday, Gunderman asked the room of radiologists a bold question: what are you expecting to get out of this job?

"If you work in an organization where most people would answer the question with a reference to their income, job security or prestige, that's a bad sign," he said.

He believes part of the cure to burnout involves building a sense of community in the workplace. One of the signs of a radiologist who is at risk of burning out is when they think only of themselves.

"Burnout is contagious — if it develops among technologists it can spread to radiologists, and the same is true in reverse," said Gunderman. "One cynic who doesn't believe in the work we do can take a toll on a great number of us."

He asked the radiologists to ask themselves how their organizations can create a better sense of community and provide meaningful opportunities for interaction. One such way could involve writing a colleague a note of appreciation for the work they do.

This is not part of radiologists' formal curriculum and can't be found on the American College of Radiology website, but the future of radiology hinges on this. Radiologists can only be as good as the organization that make up the profession, according to Gunderman.

Creating a sense of community isn't restricted to just the radiology department — the radiologists should form relationships with emergency room physicians, vascular and orthopedic surgeons and the administration of the hospital or health system.

Ensuring that there are opportunities for professional development is another way to prevent burnout for radiologists as well as radiologic technologists and nurses. It's important that the organizations provide a budget for them to pursue their own development as professionals.

"One thing that will de-motivate people very quickly is to force them to stagnate," said Gunderman. "Particularly for highly-educated professionals who care deeply about the quality of their work."

Similarly, not feeling like they have a say in the quality of their own work can also lead to burnout. The organization as a whole will be affected if the staff is deprived of the opportunity to shape the nature of the work they do every day.

"The people that are needed the most to make an organization the best it can be — to take good care of patients, educate students and push the envelope of biomedical science — will suffer the most from a lack of opportunity to influence the work they do," said Gunderman.

He left the audience with one last question to ponder: What are we doing to move our colleagues and organizations toward making things better?

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