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Flame On to Battle Burnout


How do we flame on - not burn out - in radiology? We stop whining and complaining. We start focusing on patients, referrers, and why we chose radiology.

Physician burnout. In recent years this malady has often been mentioned, particularly since there are mounting concerns questioning whether it makes sense to continue practicing radiology when we are experiencing current (or perceiving future) economic disincentives, incessant or increasing professional liability, eroding relationships with administration and/or our associates, or perhaps a more visceral inability to achieve the elusive goal of professional fulfillment or practice satisfaction.

I just don’t get it. It’s been nearly 30 years since I finished residency and yet I feel more excited and passionate about radiology than ever before in my entire career. It’s not naiveté and the last time I checked, my flouro goggles were not rose-colored. That’s where I was after residency when I joined an independent single specialty group and thought I would get rich and have fun in radiology, both at the same time. Although I’ve not gotten rich, it has been an incredible ride and it just keeps getting better and better. As I’ve learned over the years, it’s all about the journey. And by the way, my first flouro system had mirror optics, not television.

In a recent conversation I found myself giving a pep talk to a former fellow resident who’d been unhappy for the past 10 years in a situation he characterized as a “dead end practice.” I was amazed by his inability to come to grips with the reality that he was as unhappy as he really was. It was almost as if he expected things to be like they were - essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I told him how jazzed I was about my practice, he said, “Isn’t that where you went after residency? I can’t believe you could still like it after 30 years.”

It was only after the conversation had concluded and we’d made plans to reconnect at the RSNA that I reflected on what he’d said, and more importantly what his words portrayed about his life’s situation. Sadly, he was burning out. I also realized that it’s not so much about our practices or circumstances themselves; Rather, it’s more about our own individual desires and what we’re looking for in our lives.

Sports, in a lot of ways, are a lot like life. Perhaps most commonly in sports, the term “Game On” refers to getting our game face on prior to competition. Psyching up.  Mentally visualizing a peak performance. Seeing ourselves winning. What does this have to do with radiology burnout? It can mean the difference between an incredibly successful, fulfilling career and an also-ran. How do we combat burnout? We put on our game faces. We turn game on into “flame on.”

How do we flame on to radiology? We stop whining about not enough history. We stop complaining about clinical criticism regarding our specialty. We stop fretting about the future and continually fussing about our frustrations. We begin to rally the inner forces that led us to choose radiology in the first place. We recall why we chose this specialty above all others.  We remember that we are medicine’s detectives and they all come to us for guidance and answers. We relish in the fact that we do things for patients and referring physicians that no one else can do or even understand.

With flaming ferocity we can say to our clinical colleagues, “I just reviewed the studies on your patient. It is a most unusual and interesting case, but it appears we are dealing with…” How incredible to be in the driver’s seat of this kind of investigation. How awesome to be able to direct this investigation and help guide the therapy of another.

If we start to feel burnout, or wonder why we are where we are or where we are going, I’d suggest revisiting the personal choices we made years ago. It shouldn’t be about wealth or way of life or internal inclinations. It’s not about me. It should be about our patients and those we serve. If we focus on others and the reasons we chose radiology in the first place, we will be so involved with other concerns that we will not be bothered by factors that lead others to burnout. If we “flame on” for radiology, we will find ourselves in a much better place.

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