Strategies to overcome burnout for radiologists

Being a radiologist is a stressful medical specialty, having to deliver day-in day-out news to patients about their condition, with their expectation to be always right. Indeed, according to the Medscape Report 2020, radiology is among the most stressful specialties for physicians, with 46% of radiologists reported to experience burnout. Even professionals with great passion for their job can lose motivation and feel frustrated, sometimes leading to errors they would not ordinarily make—and as a result, compromised patient care.

What are the factors causing burnout?

Burnout is a multifactorial condition that develops over time, with factors having a compounding effect.

Working under pressure

Radiologists face demands to read an ever-increasing volume of images while meeting tight deadlines. Covid 19 has worsened the situation, creating a huge imaging backlog of routine exams, screening and follow-ups. And with this delayed work, the looming risk of litigation increases radiologists’ emotional exhaustion.

Working long hours

Working extra hours is a common practice among radiologists. In fact, half of the respondents of the Medscape survey said that spending too much time at work contributes the most to burnout.


The adoption of PACS and EMR in medical practices has decreased interactions between referring physicians and radiologists. As a result, radiologists can feel disconnected from the team and less involved in patient management and decision-making. The Covid outbreak made this even worse. And passing long hours secluded in a dark cubicle can be depressing.

Too many administrative duties

Bureaucratic tasks, such as paperwork and charting, cut into the time radiologists have to spend on interpreting images—the job they are there for.

The relative value unit (RVU) system as a basis for financial compensation

Physician productivity is a major factor influencing income—which makes it an additional source of stress.

The importance of each of these factors will vary from practice to practice and for each individual, with the amount of work and degraded self-esteem the key components.

What can be done to reduce radiologists’ burnout?

Tackling the cause of burnout is very much individual based and there is no magic wand. Help can come from three types of remedies that will most likely have to be combined. Time, complexity and cost of deployment of these solutions will have to be carefully considered of course.

 1- Human factors

Building interpersonal connections

Interactions with colleagues and physicians of other specialties, peer support, and coaching may reduce the burnout burden while increasing overall work efficiency.

Involving additional personnel

Hiring assistants and room coordinators to deal with administrative tasks and manage phone calls would allow radiologists to focus on reading.

 2- Work policies

Work environment

Creating a more hospitable reading room environment, furnished with ergonomic equipment, where several radiologists can work in the same room, can facilitate the exchange of opinions on cases and help physicians feel less isolated

More flexible compensation structure

Creating a compensation structure based not only on RVU productivity but also other factors, such as teaching or research activities, could alleviate pressure, and improve radiologists’ motivation.

3- Technology enablers

Implementation of teleradiology

The use of teleradiology in medical centers may help to lessen workload and let radiologists be more flexible in planning their working schedule, including work from home.

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI in radiology)

AI has been a very emotional subject lately, in radiology especially, ranging from hype to fear and back.

AI can be used in radiology in several ways to alleviate a number of the causes of burnout:

  • Reduce tedious tasks. Automation of repetitive tasks is what machines are best at doing! This includes sorting cases against defined criteria.
  • Be systematic and thorough at every hour, every time. Computer algorithms never get tired and absolutely always do the same thing. That leaves time and mental space to radiologists to look for the odd and unpredictable
  • Provide a second pair of eyes, even a second opinion, that is timely and affordable to confirm what the radiologist suspects, detect what they may have missed and accelerate the reading of normal cases.

When the purpose of using it is clearly identified, AI can bring the highest magnitude of relief amongst all solutions discussed here. It reduces workload and mental pressure, yet leaves radiologists in control, and more importantly with the best part of their job: the satisfaction of searching and finding abnormalities in images.

All these strategies, combined with radiologists’ better care for their own well-being—eating right, getting exercise, trying a relaxation practice such as meditation, taking breaks at work can bring a lot of relief to radiologists, whether or not they’re battling with burnout.

Burnout is taken seriously, but not often tackled systematically and most efficiently. Listening to what is the perceived most important factor and addressing it head-on is essential. By dealing with the factors that cause radiologists to burn out, everybody wins—the physician, the practice, and above all, the patients.