Psyched Out

The emotional tolls of radiology can make it difficult to lead, but these tips can help you overcome them and succeed.

psychedout

January 2016

Few people talk openly about the emotional demands of being a radiologist: confronting patient mortality, a chaotic professional environment, declining reimbursement rates, and growing pressure for productivity and accuracy on a daily basis. Radiologists-in-training and mid-career radiologists rely on the specialty’s leaders to demonstrate how to manage these challenges.

Yet even an experienced imager who is emotionally worn out will surely find it difficult to lead. Here are some of the most trying issues radiologists face, and several tips to manage them as you move up in your career.

Burnout

A 2015 Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report showed that 49 percent of radiologists feel burned out, with radiology ranking seventh among all physician specialties (behind critical care, emergency medicine, general surgery, and others). Woojin Kim, MD, a staff radiologist at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, believes burnout to be one of the biggest elephants in the reading room. Kim says he experienced burnout from long hours and stress while working as interim division chief. “I’ve spoken with many of my colleagues. Many radiologists are overworked,” Kim says. “A lot of leaders either don’t know about burnout or aren’t willing to address it.” 

So, what can be done to address burnout? Kim suggests organizational leaders be more open about discussing the problem. They might consider putting together a panel at their practice or hospital, bringing in a psychologist who covers issues like physician burnout, so staff can discuss methods for management. 

But what if you are experiencing burnout yourself? Though it may be counterintuitive, joining a new committee or volunteer activity can actually expose radiologists to a fresh, exciting part of their career that can reenergize them. 

Other suggestions include meditation and being open to medication if needed. Samir B. Patel, MD, value management program director at Radiology, Inc. in South Bend, Ind., also recommends simply getting out of the reading room once in a while: “Talk with a technologist or another physician. Go to the physician lounge for a five-minute break. Even a short walk outside the hospital can work wonders.”

Imposter Syndrome

While not an official diagnosis, imposter syndrome includes feelings of inadequacy that persist despite success. Ever get that nagging feeling that you aren’t as capable as everyone around you? Or you might attribute something good you did at work to luck, rather than your own intelligence and hard work. 

One researcher found imposter syndrome to be common among physicians, after combing through many physician memoirs to find the theme ran through many narratives. Aryeh Goldberg writes on the popular KevinMD blog that one way of overcoming imposter syndrome is through cooperation with classmates or colleagues: “As I showed up on day one of medical school feeling wholly unworthy of my place in the class, I looked around in hopes of finding others like me.” Once again, the best solution requires getting the problem out into the open.

Goldberg adds, “We each have serious challenges (academic and otherwise) that we will need to overcome on our paths to being great physicians. But this doesn’t make any of us imposters. The only thing that does is our collective unwillingness to talk about it.” 

Self-Doubt

Physicians hold themselves to high standards, says Kim, so it’s no surprise that self-doubt can also plague radiologists. “We’re trying to provide the best care we can. When we don’t do it, it affects us psychologically,” he says — noting that imagers can have a particularly difficult time after they make a mistake. Patel agrees: “With the ever increasing amount of medical knowledge published, as well as regulations and documentation requirements from payers, some imagers can feel a degree of self-doubt.”

Radiologists experiencing self-doubt might feel comforted by pursuing opportunities to continue their education and sharpen their skills. While gaining CME credits at courses like those offered at the ACR Education Center and the ACR 2016 meeting, physicians can also find greater confidence in their abilities and make connections in their field. Patel also offers, “You’re not alone, and our specialty is not alone. All specialties are facing more pressure. Just don’t forget about all the successes. Write down one good thing you have done each day and review weekly or monthly to reflect on all of the positive value provided to benefit others. Remembering that can certainly help to alleviate some of the self-doubt.”


By Alyssa Martino, freelance writer for ACR Press 

 

Are you struggling with any of these challenges? You’re not alone, and speaking up can be the most empowering first step. Email your stories of how you face, manage, and overcome radiology’s day-to-day psychological tolls to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. — and we may contact you about sharing them in a future article.

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