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Slow Burn

Slow Burn for Radiologists Burnout

Radiologists, it’s OK to take off your cape. And, administrators, seeing that they do so is in the best interests of your patients and practice. If radiologists keep trying to maintain superhuman standards, both self- and system-imposed, their rate of burnout is bound to skyrocket to an even higher rate. Just ask Stacey Funt, MD, a once-full-time, gone-part-time radiologist who now dedicates part of her career life working on self-care and burnout prevention with medical students, residents, and physicians.

“I was once quite sick, but we were very short staffed so I went to work and read films hooked up to an IV. And no one around me thought that was odd,” says the national board-certified health and wellness coach, founder of Lifestyle Health LLC, and clinical instructor in lifestyle medicine at Stony Brook University Medical Center in Stony Brook, New York.

Almost one-half (47%) of radiologists reported feeling burned out, depressed, or both in the Medscape 2018 Physician Lifestyle Report, Funt points out. “We ranked ninth out of 29 specialties in the burnout category,” she says. ”And those numbers have increased quite a bit over the last five years.”

Costs of Burnout The main symptoms of burnout are emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment, Funt says, referencing the fourth edition of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, compiled by Christina Maslach, PhD, a social psychologist and professor emerita of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, whose work focuses on occupational burnout. Putting those symptoms in terms of feelings, Funt summarizes as follows:

• emotional exhaustion is “that feeling that you just can’t take one more day;” • depersonalization is “the feeling that you are disconnected from your work and/or patients and/or indifferent to what happens;” and • a reduced sense of personal accomplishment is “the feeling that you are not good at what you do or that what you do doesn’t matter.”

“For those with burnout, work does not have meaning,” says Marie Lee, MD, FACR, who copresented a presentation on burnout at this past fall’s meeting of the Washington State Radiological Society with her colleague, Gail Morgan, MD, FACR. Lee and Morgan are radiologists at Seattle-based Virginia Mason Hospital and Seattle Medical Center. “Work has meaning because of what we bring to it. If we feel depleted or feel we lack control of our environment, it is difficult to find meaning. Without meaning we get burnout.”

Explaining the rationale for the title of their presentation, “Radiologist Burnout: Myth or Reality,” Morgan says there is a misconception that the specialty of radiology is immune to burnout. “Many years ago, this belief was perhaps more closely reflective of a predictable work day and more reasonable lifestyle. But, like the proverbial frog in the pot o