Solid Staffing Solutions

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Everyone is doing more with less these days. In radiology, we're performing more procedures than ever - a good thing for business; but have fewer people to perform and read them - a bad thing for business. But there are sure-fire ways to balance the boat.

Current staffing shortages, amongst radiologists, particularly specialists, and radiologic technologists have hit epidemic levels. With no abatement in sight, dealing effectively is a matter of dealing with staffing issues smartly, strategically and creatively. The most successful and long-ranging initiatives need to be formulated in radiology, but gain support from the hospital executive suite, too.

"What has historically happened in many organizations is a lack of attention to the workforce shortage when things are good," says Kathy McEwan, manager of Radiology Consulting Group of Boston, Mass. Once the organization realizes the problem, it is too late; employees are overburdened and overworked; seeking employment elsewhere. Retaining staff suddenly becomes a priority.

What should you do? Take a look around at your "neighbor" institutions, their recruiting and retention tactics. Then take a look inside at your vacancy rates, evaluate what does and does not work in your department, what you offer potential employees in terms of salaries, benefits, training and bonuses. Formulate the best packages you can put together to get them to join - and more importantly - stay awhile.

THE NUMBERS

A variety of factors are to blame for the current shortage of radiologists, especially in pediatrics, abdominal radiology and neuroradiology. And a look at the statistics proves there's no good news in sight. In 2001, 30 percent of full-time radiologists were between the ages of 65-69, and 68 percent of radiologists were between the ages of 55-74, according to the research department of the American College of Radiology (ACR). A recent survey conducted by Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, an Irving, Texas-based recruitment firm, indicates that 38 percent of doctors age 50 or older plan retirement within one to three years. Another 16 percent said they plan to significantly reduce their practice or refuse new patients.

As retiring radiologists deplete the workforce, we're also seeing a surge in imaging volume. In 1998-1999, the ACR estimated that the average workload per FTE (full-time equivalent) diagnostic radiologist had increased 8.5 percent since 1995-1996 to 12,800 procedures annually (these are the most recent statistics available).

Today, aging baby boomers are contributing to a 9 to 17 percent yearly increase in imaging study volume. The workload will reach 500 million annual exams by the end of the decade, says Frost & Sullivan.

By 2010, the American Society of Radiologist Technologists (ASRT) says the imaging profession will fall 30 percent below staffing needs. The nation will require an additional 55,000 radiologic technologists, 4,000 radiation therapists and 4,000 nuclear medicine technologists by 2008, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Currently, qualified radiation therapists are in the shortest supply - the American Society of Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) reports an 18.3 percent shortage of radiation therapists. Specialties in radiology have higher demands too, such as abdominal radiology, mammography, neuroradiology, pediatric radiology, chest radiology and nuclear medicine.

WHAT WORKS

Beyond worrying over the numbers, does your current staffing strategy combat or mitigate the shortage?

The most obvious choice, better compensation, is one way healthcare professionals have combated the shortage by luring radiologists and RTs to their facilities. Compensation for radiologists increased 6 percent in 2001 to $320,000, namely since it has been one of the top five recruited specialties for the last three years, says Irving, Texas-based recruitment and staffing company Martin, Fletcher in its Annual Physician Compensation and Benefits Report, May 2003. The ACR agrees that more of its members are depending on recruitment firms to help mitigate their staffing shortage.

But, the buyer must beware when engaging professional recruiters, says ACR. "You must address specifics into the recruitment contracts," explains McEwan, "such as if the employee leaves within 90 days: does the hospital get a refund or leaves within six months, does the department get a free replacement?"

You might need that free replacement, as research indicates that initial employees are more