Radiologists Can Thrive in the Midst of COVID-19—And Beyond

Andrew F Simon, PhD, PsyD; Erin Simon Schwartz, MD, FACR

Disclosures

Appl Radiol. 2020;49(4):16-19. 

In This Article

Alternative Work Arrangements

The need for physical distancing has forced many radiologists into alternative work arrangements (AWA), each presenting a range of challenges. Some work from home, sharing space with family during working hours. Some live alone, without the benefit of interacting with others in person. Some continue to work in healthcare settings while navigating workspace modifications and being hyper-vigilant about wearing masks and washing their hands. Many are working through some combination of all these conditions.

To varying degrees AWAs have likely contributed to a state of ongoing stress both on and off the job. Sleep disturbances, fatigue, inability to focus, changes in eating habits, and feeling sad or anxious are all well-documented manifestations of stress.[4] The effective management of stress, including healthy eating, adequate sleep, regular exercise, and rewarding interpersonal connections, is similarly well-documented.[5] Beyond these basic life activities, success in the workplace involves attending to factors that support fundamental aspects of well-being and productivity.

Structure

The shift to AWAs has highlighted how lack of structure can impede performance. Social and environmental cues facilitate the ability to direct energies toward primary tasks, such as interpreting cases or making treatment decisions. The cues radiologists encounter throughout the workday, such as walking into the office or a reading room, help to cognitively transition to the mindset needed to perform optimally. Many of these cues have been lost with the rise of AWAs. Consequently, some radiologists are struggling to force themselves to work while others are finding it challenging to stop working. As one executive noted, "It's not so much working from home; rather, it's really sleeping at the office."[6]

All radiologists benefit from structured work routines; these minimize time and energy spent on nonessential tasks and free up cognitive resources for primary tasks.[7] The absence of a supportive environment, as many discovered when first transitioning to AWAs, can facilitate radiologists intentionally creating the structure they need.[8] Radiologists who thrive in AWAs are those who can carve out a workspace separate from that used for non-work related activities. The space can be as large as a full room or as small as a corner dedicated to sitting at a computer. Structuring around time is also important. This can be done by defining start and stop times for particular tasks, as well as for the entire workday. Setting an alarm is one way to differentiate segments of the day. Additional support can also come from playing background music, which has been proven to help in focusing attention.[9]

The continuing need for physical distancing into the foreseeable future has practical implications. Office spaces and reading rooms may need to be reconfigured to ensure safe interpersonal distancing; this may mean many radiologists will have to continue working full- or part-time under AWAs. Radiology groups that were not previously utilizing a hybrid arrangement may find it preferable in the long-term. Thus, crafting and attending to optimal workday conditions will continue to play an important role for radiologists.

Physical Well-being

Adapting to different work environments means radiologists will want to manage their workspace to support their physical well-being. Whether working under an AWA or in a conventional setting, radiologists engage in work-related activities that stress the body in particular ways. Most problematic is the extended time spent seated in front of a computer monitor. Healthy posture involves positioning the monitor at a height equal to or slightly below eye level,[10] with feet resting flat on the floor or on a footrest, with arms, back, and neck well supported, ideally with adjustable arm and neck rests, and lumbar support.[11] Standing and light walking at regular intervals are also helpful, with the goal of standing for four hours per workday.[12]

In addition, eye health is paramount for radiologists. Eyestrain and dry eye resulting from prolonged computer use can be addressed by incorporating the "20-20-20-20 rule:" every 20 minutes, focus your eyes at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds, then blink 20 times. Regular application of lubricating eye drops can also help.[13] Similarly, prolonged high-energy light exposure tends to produce squinting, extended pupillary constriction, and sleep disruption. These effects can be counteracted by wearing blue-light blocking glasses or adding a blue-light absorbing coating to prescription lenses.[13]

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