Startling new study results show burnout is rising among specialist Cancer doctors so should we ask – are doctors sick? According to this survey seven out of ten young cancer doctors in Europe display signs of burnout due to the nature of their work. Nearly 600 oncologists below the age of 40 were studied, with over 70% of doctors exhibiting signs of burnout.
Dr Susana Banerjee, study lead oncologist, explains, ‘Oncology may be an exceptionally rewarding career but it is also very demanding and stressful’.
The Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO 2014) was held in Madrid where the study results were revealed.
Why Is Oncology so Stressful?
‘Oncologists face complex decisions about cancer management, supervise toxic therapies, work long hours, and continually face patients suffering and dying. Furthermore, young oncologists face increased administration, complaints/medico-legal issues, increasing expectations and workload, with reduced resources,” she notes.
All of these factors contribute to the risk of premature burnout .
What is Burnout?
Dr Banerjee explains that burnout involves stress and emotional exhaustion, losing a sense of purpose and critically ‘depersonalisation’ – where doctors stop treating patients with genuine compassion.. A doctor may experience depression, anxiety, insomnia, relationship difficulties, alcohol abuse, substance abuse and suicide. But it can also have a major impact on patients if their doctor can no longer provide compassionate, high-quality care.
Counting the Cost
Doctors with burn out may quit their jobs prematurely, according to the study, leading to a lack of qualified personnel to care for patients. Bearing in mind the length and cost of medical school training this has major implications for already stretched health services.
“I believe as a profession, doctors have a duty to try and address this growing issue at all levels – from universities, individual hospitals and professional societies. Burnout should not be stigmatised as a weakness. We need to support colleagues by focusing on recovery and prevention,” continuesDr Banerjee.
Are you at Risk?
You need to be aware of your work/life balance and taking enough days off in which to recuperate from the stresses of work. Work conditions implicated poor staff levels, more patients and less access to support. The study also cited personal factors such as being single, living alone and not having children.
When it came to factors that were linked to a higher risk of burnout, poor work/life balance and too few holiday days were an issue. Hospital factors included having a higher number of patients, having a smaller workforce and having no access to support services. Personal factors included being single, living alone and not having any children.
In my practice I see more doctors and dentists learning mindfulness skills and stress-reducing psychotherapy methods.
Doctors benefit from talking through their issues and using tailored professional support from mental health professionals.