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How I Eliminated Worklist Pressure and Burnout from My Radiology Career

It’s been two and a half years since I realized the pressures of work had been getting the better of me for too long. I needed to make a change. The prime source of my duress was an unrelenting and constantly expanding radiology worklist.

I’d always loved my work as a radiologist. Getting things right—and fast—for patients and their treating physicians was one of the most satisfying sources of joy in my life. But 15 years into my private practice career with a large, multihospital health system, my worklist was making every day feel simultaneously monotonous and frenetic.


The routine went like this: Commute in before the sun rises. Plow through as many overnight studies as possible before early-morning STAT studies start piling up. Rush through mountains of studies to hit RVU goals. Finish worklist before leaving—a non-negotiable at that job. Go home too tired to spend meaningful time with husband and children. Eat. Sleep. Rinse and repeat.

By 2019 my turnaround times were better than ever. My diagnostic accuracy, not so much. Speed makes you sloppy. I hated that.

As for work-life balance, I often felt so mentally drained that I didn’t want my family to bother me. I was impatient with my husband and grouchy with my kids. Often I would lose my voice at night from all the talking during the day for dictation and consulting. When I needed to communicate, I had to whisper.

I remember many nights heading home from work feeling almost despondent. Once home and settled, I dreaded the next workday.

The pressures of the worklist had burned me up and burned me out.

Nowhere to go but up

By 2019 I found myself seeking new employment and wondering if there was a better way. As it happened, a better way had been hiding in plain sight. My previous hospital group used vRad for preliminary reads. It dawned on me that vRad might be a better fit for me. 
Navid, Joan, MDCould teleradiology be the answer to both my grinding discontent at work and my virtual absenteeism from home?

Once on that path of exploration, I realized I had a lot of respect for vRad radiologists. When I would overread their prelims, I was often very impressed. The interpretations were accurate and the reports thorough. Sometimes I found myself learning from them—and then thinking:

vRad radiologists are doing the kind of high-quality radiology I wish I were doing.

Soon after, I went to vRad.com and clicked the Radiologist Jobs link.

I’ve been happy at work and at home ever since.

 

Let me count the better ways

When I knew I’d be sharing my story on this blog, I jotted down a few notes. I was amazed at how clear a picture my before-and-after words painted. I could say a lot more about the “before”—my work and life at the boots-on-the-ground private practice—but I’d rather spend the rest of my words on the “after.”

To that end, I have more positive notes on worklist relief at vRad than I’ll have room for in this post. So here are six pluses that have proven especially potent burnout busters for me.

  1. Worklists are shared and distributed by smart algorithms. At vRad, an automated system ensures that we work as a true team—each radiologist’s worklist is, in essence, everyone’s worklist. And all of us work at our own pace. If you’re reading a difficult case, you can take the time to do your best work knowing the next study will be picked up by a colleague while you remain focused.

  2. When your shift is over, you’re done for the day (if you want to be). With hundreds of radiologists working from home across multiple time zones, your team of vRad colleagues covers your away time. At the same time, if you want to pick up additional shifts, there are opportunities to do so.

    radiology burnout
  3. The homegrown IT system is so powerful, intuitive and user-friendly that you’re able to concentrate on what you’re reading. And that’s just the hardware and software. The support people are topnotch too. Elsewhere many radiologists spend too much time on IT issues and/or administrative work. vRad has entire departments of trained experts dedicated to those duties. Their attentive presence lets you maximize your time with eyes on images. It’s the best support system I’ve ever seen.

  4. Pay is based on a productivity model. You know you’re going to see some direct reward for your specific work. You’re not reading boatloads of plain films just to make a certain RVU number so dollars can be divvied up by an undiscerning formula. If I want to keep working after my shift is over I can and I get paid for it. But if I’m done, I’m done. Someone else is ready to start their shift.

  5. The case mixes are varied enough to hold your interest. At vRad, I read far fewer plain films. My subspecialty is musculoskeletal radiology, and I still get to use that skillset while also growing in other areas. I’ve gotten better at reading trauma studies, for example, and it’s been very gratifying.

  6. You’re encouraged to step away from your screen so you can return with fresh eyes. vRad doesn’t have productivity requirements, and you have the authority to control your own pace. (You actually get to take breaks. What a revelation!)


I now have all six of those and more—plus my dog resting by my side as I chip away at my worklist. Or my husband reading a book and my kids doing homework nearby. Point is, I don’t feel isolated anymore while I’m working.

 

Worklist pressure? What worklist pressure?

Lately I’m grateful for the combination of worklist autonomy with customizable settings. Together, those components of my life as a radiologist in 2021 free me up to work to the top of my medical license.

Come to think of it, I feel like I’ve gone back to a point earlier in my career when I was fully concentrating on accuracy and quality. Work has become enjoyable again. It’s fun again to look at a complicated case and take the time to figure out what’s going on with this patient who needs my help.

Today work no longer defines who I am, yet I feel much prouder putting my name on my work. I’m reading images to the best of my skills, experience and ability. Striving for excellence no longer means shortchanging my family or myself.

I don’t think I could have asked for a better “after” than that.

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This post was orginally published on Radiology Buisness. 

Author Joan Tomanek, MD

Joan Tomanek, MD completed her residency at the University of Missouri-Columbia and her fellowship at the University of South California-San Diego School of Medicine. She worked for 15 years in private practice before joining vRad in 2019.