Radiologists feel they aren’t being heard by leadership—it’s leading to more burnout

Burnout has worked its way through virtually all levels of medicine, and academic radiologists believe a lack of autonomy and disputes with administrators are among the many factors contributing to their own distress.

More than 800 university radiologists were surveyed as part of new research into this topic, published Feb. 7 in Academic Radiology. And for 28% of respondents, a lack of freedom and conflicts with institutional leadership were associated with “high burnout.”

Though the researchers did not survey for the factors leading to these feelings, first author Dhakshinamoorthy Ganeshan, MD, and colleagues have some educated guesses.

“It is reasonable to hypothesize that radiologists may perceive the inability to choose their work pattern as lack of autonomy,” Ganeshan, with Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and colleagues wrote. “Similarly, the perception that their voices go unheard and that their views are not taken into account when decisions are made that directly concern their work life may also contribute to the sense of lack of autonomy.”

All told, 228 of the 831 members of the Association of University Radiologists responded to the online survey. Of that group, nearly 80% had one or more symptoms related to burnout, with more than one-quarter meeting all three criteria needed to diagnose “high burnout.” Those include high emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a low feeling of personal accomplishment.

Excessive workloads and work-life imbalance were the top two factors contributing to radiologist distress, according to the analysis. Trying to complete too much in a small window of time can lead to physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, the authors noted. This, along with other stressors, can lead to strained relationships between imaging experts and their patients—another sign of burnout.

And in academic radiology specifically, education, research, administration and quality improvement duties often require dedicated time outside of working hours, further cutting into work-life balance.

These results, taken together with reported rates of burnout ranging from 38% to 70%, indicate something needs to change, the authors wrote.

An “honest appraisal” by leadership to understand what should be expected from imaging experts in a given time period is a first step, they added. Administration should have an open mind and seek out input from physicians when changes can have a direct impact on their daily tasks.

Restructuring organizational design to incorporate multiple measures of physician value may also help to better understand and alleviate burnout. And although radiologists themselves also need to take steps to maintain their well-being, the authors called on administrators to lead the charge.

“Considering the known considerable adverse effects of physician burnout, urgent measures are needed to address this malady and promote health and wellness among radiologists,” the researchers wrote. “Institutional leadership should pursue meaningful steps to provide an emotionally thriving environment for the physicians to perform at their best.”