How sacrifice today will save the radiology industry tomorrow

In the face of what appears to be a shrinking job market, practicing radiologists have an obligation to those just starting their careers "to help them get through this difficult time," write David Levin, M.D., and Vijay Rao, M.D. in an article published in the April issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

A report last year by physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins illustrates how job prospects have declined for prospective radiologists over last several years. According to the report, demand for radiologists--Merritt Hawkins' most requested specialty in 2003--ranked just 18th last year.

The reasons for the fall in demand, according to Levin and Rao? Slowdowns in utilization and reimbursements; longer radiologist hours to maintain compensation levels (consequently decreasing the need to hire new radiologists); current radiologists deferring retirement; and the advent of picture archiving and communications systems and other digital enhancements that have increased efficiency.

Practicing radiologists should be willing to take several steps to help out their younger colleagues, Levin and Rao say. For example, they should be willing to hire more radiology fellows, even though it could mean a drop in income for the existing radiology group.

While the authors suggest that it's "not likely that radiologists currently in practice are losing a lot of sleep over the state of the job market," maintaining the status quo, they say, could lessen prestige of the specialty.

"On one hand, we could focus primarily on preserving income and let the status quo prevail," Levin and Rao say. "In that case, the job market will continue to deteriorate, no one will want to enter the field, young radiologists will be forced to go to work for the teleradiology companies ... and radiology will continue down the path toward commoditization and loss of respect within the house of medicine.

"Or," they continue, "we could instead sacrifice some income, create new positions within our practices, take back the nights and weekends, and start acting like real consultants to our colleagues and patients."

To learn more:
- read the article in the Journal of the American College of Radiology
- see the report from Merritt Hawkins

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