Study: Even very satisfied doctors get burned out

Despite high overall job satisfaction, oncologists may be just as at risk for professional burnout as their colleagues in other specialties, new research from the Mayo Clinic suggests.

According to a national study of 3,000 oncologists presented during the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Chicago, 45 percent of surveyed members reported experiencing at least one symptom of professional burnout, such as emotional exhaustion or depersonalization. With the rate of burnout-related problems just shy of the 47 percent figure determined by a larger multispecialty study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, it's noteworthy that 83 percent of oncologists in the Mayo survey said they were satisfied with their career.

"Oncology can be a tremendously rewarding area of medicine, but caring for patients with cancer is also demanding and stressful," says lead author Tait Shanafelt, M.D., a Mayo Clinic hematologist/oncologist, said in an announcement. "Oncologists work long hours, supervise the administration of highly toxic therapy, and continually observe death and suffering, so it is important to study the issues of burnout and career satisfaction."

Among survey respondents, 34 percent practiced in academic medical centers, while 43 percent were in private practice. Although both groups worked an average of 51 hours per week, private practice physicians spent greater proportions of their time on patient care, thus seeing 74 patients per week. Academic physicians, on the other hand, devoted more time to research and education, leaving them to see about 37 patients per week. In addition, physicians in academic medical centers were far more likely to focus on patients with a particular type of cancer compared to private practice physicians.

The authors noted that more research is needed to determine how professional characteristics link to physician burnout and career satisfaction.

To learn more:
- see the announcement from the Mayo Clinic
- check out the study from the Archives of Internal Medicine