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Radiologist Burnout: What’s Cooking You?


None of us radiologists have legitimate dissatisfaction with our careers. Let’s look at all of the wonderful things we encounter each and every day.

Recent polls of physicians - radiological and non- - have turned up a high rate of self-reported burnout. Those without exposure to the health care field generally regarded the headlines with about as much interest as they showed in tales of Amanda Bynes’ latest fender bender. Those of us in the field were shocked. Shocked, I say!

None of us have the slightest bit of legitimate dissatisfaction with our health care careers. Why, just look at all of the wonderful things we encounter each and every day we are blessed enough to be at work, as opposed to vacationing in Aruba:

Intellectually satisfying work, making a real difference in people’s lives. Obviously I’m not talking about the daily bumper crop of barely diagnostic chest X-rays from the ICU. Or the tenth head CT this month on a demented 103-year-old for “altered mental status” after another “fall.” Nor the host of unenhanced, motion-mangled belly scans on folks who recently had surgery (none of your beeswax which type or when) for “pain.” I, for one, really feel like a vital part of the health care machine - at least once per week.

Membership in a collegial society of mutually respectful professionals. So what if my referring clinicians think I deserve no more of their time than it takes to scribble “R/O pathology”? Who cares if rival practices, looking to steal your turf, are willing to do anything to mar your reputation (or your own department and/or hospital are willing to stab you in the back and swap you out the moment it turns them a slightly better profit)? When all’s said and done, we’re all friends here. Even our primary care buddies who self refer to their own carotid Doppler mills while riding on the “reimbursements overly favor proceduralists” bandwagon.

Autonomy and recognized expertise. Sure, it was tough getting into a good college, consistently making the cut over four-plus years of premedical courses and standardized testing, and then repeating the process for four more years of med school, multiple years of residency, fellowship, USMLE, Boards, etc. But we struggled through it all, had walls of diplomas and certificates, and knew that, barring major misadventure, we’d lastingly proven ourselves to everyone’s satisfaction. Um, except for Maintenance of Certification programs. And Maintenance of Licensure. Quotas for CME creds, retesting, peer-review scrutiny, and ongoing changes to the rules lest we ever foolishly think we finally have a handle on things.

Respect and gratitude from patients, the public, and our nation’s leadership. I know you might think we “greedy doctors” have been portrayed as the main reason our health care system is drowning in inefficiency and red ink; After all, we seem to be the only component that routinely gets targeted for cuts. You might question the public’s appraisal of us when the med-mal system offers little or no resistance against opportunists’ ability to harry us with frivolous lawsuits that can drag on for years, and tort-reform initiatives are laughed off by trial lawyers who make millions on contingency-cases.

Heck, you might have felt downright inconsequential when our entire health care system got a 2,800-page overhaul a couple of years back and physicians had no meaningful input. (Unless you count the AMA’s token support in exchange for a promise that SGR would be eliminated and we wouldn’t be facing the 30-plus percent cuts we’re facing this January. Hmm, how did that little deal work out?) But really, underneath it all, you know they all love us and would dearly miss us the moment we weren’t there for them.

So really, all this talk of burnout seems quite overblown to me. At worst, we’re medium-well. Come back and tell me about it when you’re feeling charbroiled.

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