Resident Work-Life Balancework life balance

There’s an alarming trend across radiology: physician burnout. Recent articles in the JACR® and RSNA News have highlighted the declining job satisfaction of radiologists.

A 2015 Medscape survey placed us dead last in workplace happiness. Although the causes may be different, resident discontent has mirrored that of attending physicians. Regardless of career stage, the lack of work-life balance is considered one of the most important contributors to this increasing burnout.

High debt and relatively low pay of are often cited as the primary factors affecting resident quality of life, but these are beyond our immediate control. So, what can we do to prevent burnout and achieve the work-life balance our generation values so much? With four young children (two of whom were born during residency) I’ve struggled with these questions. These are the key principles that I’ve used to manage:

Set priorities: Create a clear mental list of what matters most to you and be willing to forgo the activities that are less important. Accept what cannot be changed and instead focus your energy on what you can. Balance the uncontrollable bad with controllable good. For example, you can't change your volume of overnight call, but you can use the slower hours to focus on personal projects without any of the distractions that occur during the day. If financially possible, outsource activities that don’t directly contribute to your happiness.

Schedule balance: You have a schedule for work; why not home? Assigning a set time to do something will help ensure that it happens and keep you focused. Scheduling downtime with activities that refresh and clear your head will build resilience for the busier periods of the day. Remember to take care of yourself as inadequate exercise, sleep, and good nutrition will leave you unable to manage the rest of your life.

Get organized: Declutter your surroundings so there’s less to maintain. Pretend that you're moving into a smaller home: what do you truly need and what can be left behind? Embracing minimalism may be tough at first, but the less you have to maintain the more you can focus on enjoying what you have. Regularly review your budget and cut expenses that add less value to your quality of life.

Be social: Isolation is a major component of burnout. Clustering reading stations gives an immediate social outlet and makes peers accessible when questions arise. Initiate regular resident gatherings somewhere outside of the radiology department. Cultivate an open support system; sharing both victories and mistakes will build camaraderie and give perspective.

When personal changes are not enough to achieve balance, communicate with your peers to determine if a problem is systemic. If it is, engage individuals within your program leadership who demonstrate concern for resident wellness. Institutional committees offer an outlet if change cannot be effected within the program. In addition, the ACR and ACGME offer resources designed specifically for residents.

Maintaining work-life balance has always been a challenge and reversing the trend of radiologist burnout will not be easy. It will require change, not just for individuals, but also within practice groups and at the national level. The more we confront these issues and get involved now, the more likely the careers of our future will be happy ones.

Elliot Rinzler, MD, is the chief radiology resident at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

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