As boomers delay retirement, radiology job market tightens

There’s currently a slight surplus of radiologists leading to a tight job market, but this is partly due to the delayed retirement of senior radiologists, which can be addressed with policies such as phased retirement, according to an article in the February issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

A rethinking of retirement within radiology is essential in the current economic climate, wrote John J. Cronan, MD, of Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, and colleagues.

“Health care workers in general have responded to the recent economic recession by avoiding retirement,” they wrote. “In 2009 and 2010, only 1.5 percent of health care workers retired, compared with the trend of 4 percent for the prior decade.” They added that an American College of Radiology (ACR) survey showed 7 percent of practicing radiologists are older than 65 years.

While a reviving economy may solve this problem in the long term, there are young radiologists looking to enter the profession who may find it hard to wait for their spot to open up. “In the interim, many of the issues regarding senior radiologists are critical to the workforce dynamics of the specialty,” wrote the authors.

The ACR Subcommittee on Retirement reviewed retirement options to offer senior radiologists, and Cronan and colleagues listed a number of them, including:

Phased retirement: A newer trend with many variations, this option basically calls for a senior radiologist to announce plans to retire so that he or she may be phased out over a number of years. With this knowledge, the practice can plan when to recruit and the senior radiologist can see a gradual reduction of work hours.

Part-time: Similar to phased retirement, part-time work allows senior radiologists to utilize long-standing relationships during reduced work hours, and the practice can avoid a destabilizing, abrupt departure, according to the authors.

Job sharing: This option allows for the hours of a single full-time equivalent position to be variably split between two radiologists. Currently, 30 percent of practices make use of this option, according to Cronan and colleagues.

Night call services and off-site branches: Practices can creatively manage night call responsibilities to alleviate pressure on senior radiologists, wrote the authors. Senior radiologists may be less willing or capable of working after-hours call shifts, so practices can cut those hours and supplement with a night-call service. Another appealing option would be to have senior radiologists establish an off-site branch in Hawaii, Australia or elsewhere, and then utilize the difference in time zones for night coverage.

“It is important to begin this dialogue in radiology practices sooner rather than later,” wrote the authors. “It is better to discuss options and make decisions for the group rather than for individuals. The development of a formal retirement policy would satisfy senior radiologists and open jobs for newly trained radiologists, who would be highly desirable and beneficial to the well-being of all groups.”