Radiologists find many reasons for happiness in their daily jobs

December 1, 2007

Over the past decade or so, a lot of research has probed into physician job satisfaction, probably coinciding with the ascendancy of managed care and the increasing role of government in regulating medical payments. The concern is not surprising, given the importance of medicine and the elevated position physicians hold in our society.

Over the past decade or so, a lot of research has probed into physician job satisfaction, probably coinciding with the ascendancy of managed care and the increasing role of government in regulating medical payments. The concern is not surprising, given the importance of medicine and the elevated position physicians hold in our society.

Researchers have been all over the map in their conclusions. One study recently released by Merritt Hawkins, the physician recruiting company, concluded that nearly half of all physicians aged 50 to 65 are planning to retire or otherwise reduce patient loads. It included responses from 42 radiologists, 56% of whom said practice had become less satisfying in the past five years. (The study is available online at www.merritthawkins.com.) Another study, published in July in Radiology and based on 2003 data, found levels of professional satisfaction among radiologists still high-93% as opposed to 80% for physicians as a whole-but below what they were when a similar study was conducted in 1995.

These studies often include a big caveat: they are usually based on a survey of self-selected respondents. Going on the theory that those who complain have the loudest voices, the data may slant negative. A close reading of various surveys, other information, and comments from Diagnostic Imaging's editorial board and advisors suggests that things overall are going pretty well for radiologists. Consider:

  • Radiology remains a popular choice for medical school graduates. Unlike some other medical specialties, this year's 902 diagnostic radiology residency slots were fully filled within days of the match in March. Research suggests that perceptions of a specialty can depress interest among residents. That hasn't happened in diagnostic radiology.

  • Salaries remain high. Again citing a Merritt Hawkins survey, the 2006-07 average recruiting salary for radiologists was $380,000, well above the $161,000 offered family practitioners. Even if you distrust salary survey figures, most radiologists would concede that they are reasonably well paid as physicians. And one thing the job satisfaction surveys consistently show is that good salaries contribute to job satisfaction. In the July Radiology survey, for example, among those who said they enjoyed radiology practice more than they did five years earlier, 55.5% cited income as a factor.

  • Even bigger factors than salary for job satisfaction, again according to the Radiology survey, were lifestyle and/or work hour considerations. These factors were cited by 62.8% of those who said they were much happier than they had been five years earlier. Changes in arrangements for after-hours coverage were cited by 27.9%. Certainly, the growth of teleradiology and the ability to escape the dreaded night call have improved attitudes in many practices, as have the more flexible working arrangements that remote access to images allows.

  • Though not directly observable in the literature, there is a feeling that job stresses, principally overwork, common in the early 2000s are not nearly as prevalent today. The workforce shortages that had everyone scrambling to keep up seem to have eased a bit.

One interesting observation came from Dr. Peter Moskowitz, a radiologist who also coaches physicians on career and lifestyle issues.

Job satisfaction for all physicians seems to wax and wane, and in contrast to the early part of this decade, things do seem to be getting better now. But, he added, "this too shall pass."

In light of that truism, perhaps the suggestion by one editorial board member that certain personalities are better prepared to weather the vicissitudes of medical practice is relevant: Those who tend to see the cup half full will feel that way about pretty much all areas of their lives, including their work as radiologists.