JACR: Involvement in global health could reduce burnout for radiologists

According to a recent article from JACR, physician burnout is characterized by emotion exhaustion, cynicism and an overall sense of inefficacy, with the current burnout rate for radiologists near 50 percent. However, physicians—radiologists especially—choosing to get involved in global health may be a solution.

"Burnout is serious because it may have implications beyond the individual, as a relationship between physician burnout and a reduction in professional work effort has been documented," wrote lead author Aaron Kline, MD, a vascular and interventional radiology fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues.  

The report suggests six causes to physician burnout: excessive workload, lack of control, absence of community, insufficient rewards system, unfairness and disparate values. Systematic issues can also contribute, which Kline and associates note can be addressed by modifying and improving workplace processes and physician support.  

In addition to the ACR Commission of Human Resources suggestions to prevent burnout—which include adequate staffing, reducing prolonged stress and reducing night and weekend call obligations—Kline and his colleagues add that being involved in the global health community is also a two-part solution.  

"The primary motivation for involvement in the global health community is to address the disparities in access to imaging services; however, being part of the global health radiology community can have a secondary role to play in reducing perceived radiologist burnout and increasing professional fulfillment," Kline et al. wrote.   

Recently, radiology has not addressed gaps in international medical collaboration and has not delivered quality care to underdeveloped areas vulnerable to disease and death. The natural opportunity to, what Kline refers, "an increase in professional fulfillment" in radiology. This sense of professional fulfillment is accomplished internationally through garnering a strong sense community of with colleagues, stregthening senses of control, and gaining the freedom to harness and apply personal values to health projects of personal interest, according to Kline.  

"Global health radiology initiatives allow radiologists to align their values with their work. For those who strive to make a significant impact in global health, this community offers a pathway to bring sustainable positive change to resource-poor areas," said Kline.  

According to the report, radiologists who choose to be involved in global health automatically shift focus outside the usual work environment, to problem solve in a new environment with a dynamically different team. Personal and professional fulfillment are products of this exposure for radiologists working globally, according to the authors, as well as an increased sense of awareness and perspective, healthier work patterns and potential professional rejuvenation, all of which can attribute to decreasing burnout.   

There are currently more than 20 active radiology outreach organizations, according to the American College of Radiology (ACR) website, with Radiologists Without Borders and Imaging the World among them. These organizations and other similar subspecialty outreach programs have made considerable advancements through initiatives focused in pediatrics, women's health and disease management in various developing and underdeveloped countries.  

Nevertheless, Kline and colleagues explained that although radiologists seeking to work globally can decrease their experience of getting "burned out," they must be aware of the reality of cost and reward.  

"The reward for this work will not be monetary. In fact,  will likely cost money and time from work," they wrote. "However, these costs should yield other intangible rewards."