Almost Half of Cancer Doctors Report Symptoms of Burnout: Survey

Along with career satisfaction, many cite emotional exhaustion

WEDNESDAY, June 5, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Most cancer doctors are satisfied with their career, but nearly half say they have experienced at least one symptom of work-related burnout, a new study finds.

Researchers surveyed 3,000 U.S. oncologists between October 2012 and January 2013, and found that they worked an average of 51 hours a week. Oncologists in academic medical centers saw an average of 37 cancer patients per week, while those in private practice saw an average of 74 patients per week. Those in academic settings spent much of their time doing research and teaching.

While 83 percent of the oncologists in the study said they were satisfied with their career, 45 percent reported experiencing at least one sign of burnout, including emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.

The study was presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.

"Oncology can be a tremendously rewarding area of medicine, but caring for patients with cancer is also demanding and stressful," lead author Dr. Tait Shanafelt, a Mayo Clinic hematologist/oncologist, said in a society news release.

"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," Shanafelt explained.

Further research is needed to identify personal and professional characteristics associated with burnout and career satisfaction, the study authors said.

Forty-three percent of the oncologists in the study were in private practice, 34 percent in academic medical centers, and the remainder worked in the military, with veterans or in industry. The number of hours worked by oncologists in academic medical centers and private practice were similar but 81 percent of oncologists in academic medical centers cared for patients with a specific type of cancer, compared to 17 percent of those in private practice.

Data and conclusions of research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute explains how to choose a doctor or facility for cancer care.

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