Sometimes it’s very obvious when you are in a new leadership position and sometimes it’s subtle, but in the radiology department, we are all leaders. The front desk staff, technologist, or nurse has the unique responsibility of sometimes being the only personal interaction our patients have with our department. Patients look for guidance, care, and professionalism, which is delivered day in and day out. But there is also a leadership component. You need to troubleshoot problems, think on your feet, and handle emergencies that may be outside of your usual training or responsibilities. To the patient, this is your job.
Particularly during the current crisis, as schedules get shuffled, staffing is short, and guidelines are put in place with new information, you may find yourself alone on a shift or supervising others for the first time. Similarly, a junior radiologist may be asked to lead a portion or division of a department and handle the equipment downtime, patient safety, and technologist workflow. Recognize this as an opportunity to improve the situation, a little bit at a time, and grow.
I had the unique leadership opportunities to run medical departments on a ship, in a closet in Kuwait, and at a hospital in Okinawa, Japan––always resource constrained, sometimes using only supplies that we could carry. If you are a new leader, some of these tips may be helpful.
Crisis Management in the Radiology Department
Own the situation
There will be curve balls––more than usual and ones you have never seen before. That’s OK. Care for the patient, keep them safe, and do your best. Communicate and document appropriately. Control what you can. Keep your supplies and workspace organized. Arrive early, if possible, and find your emergency phone lists. Be sure they are updated. Mentally rehearse scenarios: What if a patient fell? What if they started aspirating? What if the equipment failed mid-scan? You will be in a better position to handle an urgent or emergent situation if you have mentally prepared, even if it is a new one.
Make today a little better than yesterday
The nature of our business is to work in situations unfathomable to outsiders. We serve very sick and injured people and that can weigh on us. So when you have a mistake to correct or an important lesson to learn, don’t let that interfere with the job today. Learn the lesson, don’t make that error again, and improve. You are in your current position because you have demonstrated prudence, intelligence, and responsibility. But you are not perfect; so as long as you can learn the lesson, you can improve and care for your patients. Strive to be like your mentors, but don’t compare yourself to them. If you perform better than yesterday, you win.
Be open, be humble
A new leader can sometimes feel that they are supposed to start barking orders like a general; however, this is rarely helpful. Particularly if there are team members with more experience and expertise in specific areas, it can be useful to ask advice. Of course, there is a balance, and ultimately plans need to be executed.
An example: If a scanner is down and immediate rescheduling must occur, it is perfectly reasonable for a CT division officer to find the lead CT tech and a front-desk scheduler to ask for input, then put a plan in place. During the execution of the plan, accept input and adjust as needed. In contrast, a new leader could make a seemingly reasonable plan without considering real-time information from the scheduler, and worsen an already tense situation. If someone uses appropriate communication to suggest plan improvement, it is important to weigh this information properly, without letting ego cloud judgement.
This can be done in many ways. You can ask questions of your department’s senior techs or radiologists or model their behavior. You can seek help from books, podcasts, YouTube videos, and online courses. Search for a leadership book or podcast and find one you like. You can use the OverDrive app to get library books for free to read on your mobile phone or eReader. Listen to podcasts on your way to work to always improve how you care for your staff and patients. Since 2013, I have made it a point to read 5-10 minutes each morning, and with this minimal commitment, I have read over 100 professional books to date.
Take care of yourself
This is a hard one. We work in healthcare, but unless we are an athlete, with appropriate body fat percentage, perfect sleep habits, a sound coping mechanism, an even temper, and manage to floss every day, there are areas in which we all can improve. So pick one. If it’s sleep, do one thing per day to improve. Could you put your phone down five minutes earlier before bed? Less caffeine in the hours before bed? Check your mobile app store and try a calming app. Can you do 30 pushups? 50? Start with 10 in the morning and 10 in the evening. Are you happy with your food intake? Could you plan it better?
As I said, it’s not easy, but if you pick one and give it a try, you are sending a message. This is a tough time, but I am doing everything I can to take care of myself, so I can take care of my patients and staff.