Despite current doldrums, future radiology job prospects should be bright

Over the last several years the radiology profession has focused much attention on declining reimbursement rates. But the fact remains that the number of job opportunities for radiologists isn't growing either.

A recent survey of radiology practice managers, reported in the October issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology, found that in 2012 and 2013, the number of jobs available for radiologists was basically the same. Even more discouraging, those numbers are not expected to grow over the next several years.

Why has job growth remained so sluggish? Some suggest that reductions in reimbursement levels are leading more radiologists to increase their working hours and take fewer vacations.

There's also the possibility that radiologists are suppressing the market by delaying retirement--a possibility that seems to be supported by the survey. According to Edward Bluth, M.D., of the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans, about 22 percent of radiologists are between the ages of 56 and 65, while another 7 percent are older than 65.

Additionally, it has been suggested that reducing imaging utilization is hurting the radiology job market. While no one would question that the focus on appropriateness and efforts to reduce or eliminate over imaging are good things for patient care and health systems as a whole, it's a mathematical certainty that a reducing the number of imaging tests will further suppress the job market.

So what's to be done?

Earlier this year, radiologists David Levin and Vijay Rao made several good suggestions about what might be done in the short term to help turn this situation around. Radiology practices, they said, instead of contracting out their after-hours and weekend calls to teleradiology companies, could assume those duties and give them to young radiologists who wouldn't necessarily object to the hours.

Levin and Rao also suggested that radiologists can strengthen the specialty by making themselves into something more than imaging readers by communicating more with patients, consulting with referring physicians, and evaluating imaging requests for appropriateness.

In the longer term, the chances are that the law of supply and demand eventually should work in favor of an expanding job market. For example, those older radiologists eventually will retire. making way for a whole new generation of radiologists.

The fact that Americans seem to be getting increasingly unhealthy also could work to the specialty's advantage, as well. As more Americans suffer from heart disease and other ailments, for instance, radiology likely will play an even bigger role in the management of their health in the future.

While the industry, for the moment, appears stagnant, aspiring radiologists can be assured that their chosen profession still has a strong future. - Mike  @FierceHealthIT