To hire or not to hire: Employing part-time radiologists brings benefits, drawbacks

Future discussions will hopefully lead to a shared consensus regarding the employment of part-time radiologists (PTRs), according to an article published online May 22 in the Journal of the American College of RadiologyThe American College of Radiology (ACR) Commission on Human Resources surveyed the human resources and radiology literature about the advantages and disadvantages of employing PTRs and detailed their findings in the article written by Jay A. Harolds, MD, of Michigan State University College of Medicine in Grand Rapids, and colleagues.

Employees and employers who utilize flexible-work-time arrangements experience a number of benefits, including decreased work-life conflicts, improved work-life balance and improved recruitment and retention for employers. However, these arrangements do not come without their issues. Studies have shown that some part-time physicians feel devalued and question the clarity of their roles, as well as room for professional growth.

“Several strategies have been developed to help part-time workers ameliorate the negative effects of their work arrangements,” wrote Harolds and colleagues. “These include having part-time employees make their priorities transparent to the organization, emphasize and broadcast the business case for part-time arrangements, cultivate champions in senior leadership, and remind their colleagues that despite their part-time stats, they are still ‘in the game’ and cannot be ignored.”

After reviewing the literature, the authors found that age and sex are major factors in determining the employment status of radiologists. Findings revealed the older the radiologist, the more likely he or she worked as a PTR. Female radiologists were also much more likely to be PTRs than their male counterparts.

In radiology groups, PTRs could be helpful in situations where work volume exceeds the capacity of the employees but doesn’t justify a full-time radiologist (FTR). Transition from a FTR to a PTR in some instances could better a group’s working relationships as a whole. Moreover, hiring two PTRs instead of one FTR could be a less risky approach for a practice due to future uncertainties, decreased reimbursement and increased work volume, wrote Harolds et al.

In academic practices, PTRs could offer coverage for the necessary academic, administrative and meeting times of the FTRs without having to pay a complete benefits package. A PTR program could also enable economic efficiencies without the turmoil that typically occurs with layoffs.

Although hiring a PTR could bring about many positives for a practice, it does not come without its disadvantages. Practice responsibilities that fall outside of regular work hours could pose issues for PTRs. Variable work schedules could hinder full understanding of the policies and culture of the radiology organization, which could lead to less loyalty.

The current job market for radiologists could also add a negative aspect for hiring PTRs, as that would decrease the likelihood of actual practice expansion with the addition of one or more FTRs and could contribute to a decline in the quality and number of medical students applying to radiology.

When considering hiring PTRs, many policy questions must first be addressed. Contractual issues related to salary, bonuses, benefits, termination policies, voting and other call requirements need to be agreed upon mutually before hiring.

The ACR Commission on Human Resources attempted to offer guidance to practicing radiologists about policy questions regarding PTRs, but were unable to reach consensus after discussion and voting.

“The lack of consensus by the panel indicates a wide variety of opinions on many of the policies that should be applied regarding PTRs and the absence of objective standards to which most people can agree,” wrote Harolds and colleagues. “It is hoped that with longer discussion and careful analysis and consideration of the differing viewpoints, a shared consensus can emerge in the future.”