New Recommendations Outline Approaches to Reduce Burnout in Oncology

March 30, 2020

JCO Oncology Practice recently published an article written by the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) Ethics Committee focused on the causes of burnout in oncology as well as intervention methods. The article provides recommendations for individuals, organizations, and the Society to address burnout and ensure delivery of ethical and quality cancer care. 

In a recent ASCO survey of member medical oncologists, 45% of respondents reported experiencing emotional exhaustion and/or depersonalization related to burnout signs. Burnout is understood as physical and/or emotional exhaustion, cynicism and/or depersonalization, and low sense of professional accomplishment. Not only does it affect the well-being of practitioners, but also those under their care.

Causes and Consequences of Burnout in Oncology

While some causes of burnout are true for all physicians, the article notes that those practicing in oncology experience unique challenges, such as continuous exposure to life-threatening illness, limited treatment options, and treatment failures; frequent experience with ethically challenging situations; and sense of personal failure and grief upon the death of a patient.

The article describes some of the personal consequences of burnout, as well as professional consequences, such as reduced problem-solving skills, professionalism, and productivity, and unethical behavior. Burnout can also cause organization and system-wide consequences, like loss of revenue, decreased patient satisfaction, and staff shortages. Ultimately, all of these factors impact quality of care.

Recommendations to Address Burnout in Oncology

The paper describes many interventions that individuals and organizations can take:

  1. Recognize the importance of oncology physician well-being to achieving its mission
  2. Assess burnout
  3. Proactively engage organizational leaders and physicians in collaborative action planning
  4. Optimize the clinical practice environment and institutional culture and provide well-being resources

The Committee also introduced three recommended actions for ASCO to take to address burnout widely in oncology:

  1. Broaden clinical education resources
  2. Establish clinician well-being and burnout as important quality metrics for oncology practices
  3. Promote evidence development

ASCO is committed to supporting these recommendations through programs and collaborative opportunities with outside organizations. To learn more about physician burnout, read the full article in JCO OP and listen to the latest JCO OP Podcast Development of an “Art of Oncology” Curriculum to Mitigate Burnout and Foster Solidarity Among Hematology/Oncology Fellows.

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