In high stakes business, oncologists subject to more burnout

A doctor at a desk holding up his hand to say stop
One study found 44.7% of practicing oncologists show signs of burnout. Image: Medioimages/Photodisc

In a high-stress, high-stakes specialty such as oncology, doctors are particularly vulnerable to burnout.

Those high rates were confirmed in two separate 2014 studies that found 44.7% of practicing oncologists show signs of burnout, a problem that can start early in their careers, as about 40% of first-year oncology fellows experience burnout, according to OncLive.

“I think oncology is a very difficult specialty. You’re going to win battles, but you’re going to lose some as well, and when you don’t cure a patient, it takes a toll on the physician,” Bradley Prechti, CEO of Florida Cancer Specialists, a large network of community practices, told the publication.

Oncology practices can take certain steps to combat burnout:

  • Train clinicians in palliative care and end-of-life discussions to empower them with communication and self-care skills, said Sarbajit Mukherjee, an oncology fellow at the University of Oklahoma
  • Encourage physicians to take care of themselves, including taking vacations, sleeping, eating well and exercising. Oncologists frequently deal with death and should allow themselves to grieve when a patient dies
  • Have a supportive staff network. Create an environment where physicians can talk about stressful situations with colleagues, suggested Robin Zon, M.D., of Michiana Hematology Oncology in Indiana.
  • Make sure to have adequate staffing. Demand for oncology services is growing and there will a shortage of doctors and a surplus of patients, the article said. Support staff can take over administrative tasks such as authorizations, preauthorizations and notes.