The Pursuit of Happiness in Radiography
How many radiographers out there are truly happy with their career?
I know this is a bit of a provocative question. If I’m honest, I would not raise my hand at this point in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I like my job. I find it rewarding at times. It keeps me busy and interested. It gets me out of bed and pays the bills. But I wouldn’t say I live and breathe radiography. If I won the lottery today, I would not be coming into work tomorrow.
In fact I have recently just dropped down to part time clinical work (two days per week to be precise!). After 12 years of full time work, I felt I needed a break. But I don’t want to lose my clinical skills and registration, so part time work suits me for now until I figure out whatever it is I’ve set out to discover.
I think ultimately what I want to do is redefine what it means to be a radiographer.
No big deal, really! But to do that I need to take a step back. Gain a different perspective. Look inwards, but also all around me. I thus begin my pursuit of happiness in radiography.
At this stage I am well aware that the answer may be staring me in the face: that there will never be a time where I truly love showing up to work. I mean, how many jobs out there can claim this? Every job has its moments where you would rather be somewhere else (otherwise, why are they paying you!?). But that does not mean I cannot at least strive to close the gap. To find that secret ingredient that makes my morning commute seem a little less bleak, or my shift drag on that little bit less. To be able to connect with more of my patients, and feel like I am making a difference. To not feel the need to complain about all the little things that are not perfect, and just accept what is because I’m happy in this moment.
I’m sorry to disappoint, but I do not yet have the answers to make this a reality. And even if I do find them for me, they probably wouldn’t work for you, because we are all individuals and we need to do what works for ourselves. BUT, I do have a few hypotheses that I want to explore that could set us on the right path.
Basically, I think we need to inquire more about the reality of our current situation.
To “inquire”, I mean asking those difficult questions that we often just take for granted, or don’t even realise there is a question to ask in the first place. Let me explore a few areas that resonate with me right now:
1. Where do I see myself within the radiology hierarchy?
Am I a mindless burger flipper? “1x CT Lumbar Spine and 1x CT Chest, hold the contrast!”. Or am I on equal grounds with the radiologists, receptionists and everyone else within the department? Collaborating with everyone to get the best outcome for the patient. Let me give you an example. I had a clash with a radiologist a while back. This radiologist would constantly call me to discuss a patient’s scans. “Did you do a delayed phase? Why did you only cover this region?”. My ego took this as an attack on my ability as a radiographer and I jumped on the defensive. In conjunction with a few other things going on at that time, I actually lost my temper and acted in a way that I am now quite ashamed of. But this uncomfortable discussion made me realise that this radiologist was just really passionate about getting the best possible diagnosis and didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Although I was following our protocols and technically not doing anything “wrong”, I realised that my role as a radiographer involved working with everyone on the team and going above and beyond the standardised protocols sometimes to get the diagnosis. Yes, this requires more work and critical thinking, but with this new mindset I can say that I enjoy my work more now.
2. What is my worth as a healthcare professional?
Could machines one day take my job? Am I really making that much of a difference? Well it all depends on perspective. Are we changing the world, one button push at a time? No. But who really wants to change the world? What’s the point? I have found that focusing on my immediate reality gives me the best understanding of my worth. Helping an anxious patient through a scan. Going above and beyond the standard protocols to get a diagnosis. Having a friendly chat with a patient about whatever comes up. These micro-moments help me build a picture of what it is I’m bringing to the table. Yes it’s true, technology will continue to improve and automate a large part of our job (well, it already has! Look back 20 years and see the difference to now). But I believe there is one thing machines can’t take from us, and that’s the value we place on ourselves and our actions. Patients need more than just a diagnosis. They need human interaction and care. They need to feel like a person, not just an inconvenient number. And this is going to become more and more important as machines automate our jobs.
3. How do I process traumatic events?
If you’ve worked in a hospital with an emergency department, you have most likely been exposed to patients who have suffered serious physical trauma. If you’ve worked in a private practice, you have most likely scanned patients who are losing their fight with cancer. Or you may have taken the scan that diagnosed a young child with a terminal illness. Every healthcare worker is exposed to trauma. It is inevitable. But we must persevere to get the job done; that’s the reality of the situation and it can’t be changed. But what we can change is how we process these traumatic events and debrief afterwards. This may seem a tad out there, but I believe that we absorb the trauma we are exposed to. Think of it as a wave of energy that gets trapped somewhere in our mind and body. And if we just leave it there, this builds up over time, and it can manifest in a variety of ways - depression, anxiety, anger, burnout, physical illness. Our sympathetic nervous system becomes over activated and our baseline stress levels increase. We need to find a way to move this energy, because as they say “it’s better out than in”. Personally, I have recently discovered breathwork as an amazing tool to do this. It moves physical tension and suppressed emotions, and helps me gain a clear insight into my mind and body (it resonated with me so much that I’m actually in the middle of training to become a breathwork facilitator!). Other things such as exercise, meditation, yoga, talk therapy are all good. Even just taking a 5 minute breather after a particularly difficult case can readjust your central nervous system - your patient list can wait! I encourage you to find what works best for you and don’t leave unprocessed trauma to fester. If you want to know more about breathwork, feel free to contact me!
So these are the areas that I will be focusing my inquiry on over the next few months (or years!). Like I said, I don’t have the secret ingredient to find happiness in my job. But perhaps this is not where I should be looking for happiness? Perhaps I just need to adjust my thought patterns and become more comfortable with accepting reality for what it is. And then slowly try to build on that. It’s not the answer my scientific mind craves. It wants answers! It wants results! It wants a double-blinded, variable-controlled study with a clear hypothesis! But sometimes this scientific mind can blind me from the truth. Sometimes the answer can’t be seen or measured. Sometimes there is no answer at all.
If this topic resonates with you at all, I would love to hear your story! Either comment below or send me a message. I think the more of us talking about this, the better. I plan to create a dedicated course on living a sustainable and happy career in radiography, and I value your feedback on what you think this may look like. What topics should be covered? What advice should be given? Let's make this a collaborative effort that we can all benefit from!