Are Radiologists Free from Office Drama?

August 29, 2019
Eric Postal, MD

It’s a common workplace complaint, but how common is it in radiology?

One of the nice things about advancing in years, and hopefully career-stage to match, is getting to watch your contemporaries as they also move on to bigger and better things. I am happy to see most of my peers have done some climbing in the hierarchies of their workplaces, made lateral-yet-upward moves, or even launched their own enterprises. Compensation, authority, job-stability, satisfaction, etc. generally trend in good ways.

But needless to say, they aren’t all running around in delirious happiness. Plenty of dissatisfactions can always be found, even if they scale with one’s stage in life. One might, for instance, lose sight of once having worried on a regular basis about simply keeping one’s job and making ends meet and now live in daily aggravation from workplace politics and other such interpersonal drama.

It’s not all about the money

Such in the case for one particular individual I know: Has decent hours, earns more than enough to cover not just personal needs but also optional wants. Works more with mind than hands, and has room for innovation and creative expression. Even has something resembling tenure, so there’s no realistic worry of losing the job.

So what could be wrong? Sartre probably put it best: “Hell is other people.” Surrounded by coworkers who have similarly-good (or even better) career situations going on, this individual by all rights should have a harmonious environment. They have nothing to gain-and, indeed, much to lose-by being at odds with one another, since they’re all on the same team.

Maybe it’s clashing personality types. Or a sense of jockeying for position in the eyes of the leadership. Perhaps even a basic human need for strife. Whatever the cause, the regular state of affairs is an endless cycle of perceived slights, snipes, backstabbing, and downright sabotage. To the point that some of these folks who would otherwise be completely content to remain at their posts for another few decades are intermittently honing resumes and plotting escapes to other jobs-which, they (often wrongly) hope, will be saner.

Every time I hear about such things, I thank my lucky stars that I found my way into a career where I’m nigh unto immune from such goings-on. As a radiologist, as long as I’m doing a decent volume of work at a certain level of quality, I’m probably not going to be hassled. Especially since I’m a working-from-home telerad.

Thinking about writing this column, I did of course realize that I might be tempting fate to say such things, let alone in writing. Oh, you don’t think workplace politics and interpersonal drama can reach you in your remote home office? Watch this, smart guy!

There’s always potential for getting dragged sideways into such things. Probably the easiest way would be to join a committee or two. Meetings certainly seem to be the most fertile ground: Opinions differ, factions form, resentments brew.

Related article: I Just Work Here

Studiously avoiding such appointments doesn’t make you bulletproof, though. As long as you interact with other folks, there’s a chance for disharmony: Another rad who shares your reading-area. A technologist who regularly populates your worklist. A frequent referrer. Be as nice, reasonable, and as accommodating as you can: What makes the drama so aggravating is when you’ve done nothing to provoke it-it’s all the other party’s doing-but you still have to deal.

Still, I think a typical rad has to put up with far less of such nonsense than people in most other fields. It can’t be objectively measured, but different types of work are impacted to varying degrees by the factor mentioned above. With the reference I made above, one might call it something like the “Sartre quotient;” that is, the degree to which other people in a given job can make it hell.

So, for instance, let’s consider a corporate-exec type. By all means, envy his high-end suits, pricey business lunches, lofty titles, and of course 7-digit income. But what happens when a new VP gets appointed, and does not see eye to eye with the exec, even personally hates him? Or others at the exec’s own level decide to work together and take him down a peg in the boardroom? He might be doing a bang-up job by all objective measures-but that might not save him. His Sartre-quotient could be well above 50%.

By contrast, a telerad working on his own in a home-office might have something like a 1% likelihood of being vexed by other humans in the group, or its referrers. A rad working onsite, in physical proximity of others, might experience more-perhaps 5%.

That’s still pretty good: The vast majority of your work experience is going to be based on how well you can do your actual job, not who (dis)likes you at any given moment.

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