More and more, radiologists play a growing role in sports medicine. However the shortage of qualified radiographers is a big problem for the health service and has been identified as a limiting factor in the provision of health care. Since there are only so many new radiographers qualified each year, there are typically more radiography jobs available than there are radiographers to fill them. For this reason, there has been quite a lot of research done on the phenomenon of “burnout” among radiographers. This is true for both therapeutic and diagnostic radiography jobs.
Radiography is not necessarily an intrinsically stressful career, but it can become a high stress job given the conditions which radiographers actually have to work under. According to studies, among the main causes of workplace stress in radiography are the workload, staff shortages and volume of patients. This would tend to suggest that the root of the problem is not the work itself, but the amount of work.
Of course, there is a danger that a vicious spiral can develop – if there are insufficient resources and staffing levels to meet the demand for radiography, then this increases the amount of stress on radiography staff. Increased stress tends to mean higher levels of burnout, which reduces the number of radiographers available, and increases stress on those who remain. Some of the measures taken to address resources shortages, like shift work and out-of-hours working, can have a counterproductive effect. According to surveys, as much as 38% of people in radiography jobs in the NHS are showing at least some of the signs of burnout.
What can be done? It has to be recognised that high workloads do not have to be a cause of stress among the workforce. People tend to feel stress when they believe that excessive demands are being made of them, and they have no control over their workload. Occupational stress is also associated with jobs that have poor career progression and ambiguous or ill-defined responsibilities. All of these things can be improved with clear communication and processes designed to create a functional workplace environment.
The Society of Radiographers takes the phenomenon of stress in radiography jobs very seriously, and has produced detailed guidelines for Health & Safety representatives. Management and radiography employees need to work together to reduce the causes of stress, and to mitigate the effect on staff who are suffering stress symptoms before they burn out.
High-pressure does not have to mean high stress! A radiography department is always going to be in high demand, and doctors will always be demanding rush jobs for emergency patients. Realistically, a hospital cannot be a calm working environment; however, if things are well organised, and people feel that they have a voice that is listened to, the stresses of radiography jobs do not have to become unmanageable.