Defined as "exhaustion of physical or emotional strength usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration," physician burnout has become a growing topic of concern in healthcare — and of rising ubiquity among practitioners. According to a 2016 Physicians Foundation survey, 49 percent of physicians report feeling burnout symptoms "often" or "always."
Among oncologists, the rate is similarly high, and may be leading to consequences like shortened careers. Forty-six percent of oncologists report feeling significant stress at work, while roughly one fifth are considering retiring early due to stress. Naturally, their top stressors reflect prevailing woes in the changing healthcare landscape: electronic health records, changing reimbursement models and interactions with payers.
One interesting note is a discordance between oncologists reporting increased stress — and taking action to combat it — and the fact that many claim to be comfortably in control of their work.
For instance, 62 percent of oncologists state that they have optimal or good control over their workload, while 35 percent report needing at least seven additional hours per week to complete clinical tasks.
"Based on our summit results, the real question may be whether oncologists are willing to admit to feelings of burnout and accept counseling and support," said Dr. Chadi Nabhan, vice president and chief medical officer for Cardinal Health Specialty Solutions. "It’s possible that oncologists are too proud to admit occasional lack of control over their workload, or that their individual definitions of 'workload' varies."
Follow up will be needed in the coming years to determine where and how oncologist stress can be properly addressed.