Burnout in Young Oncologists

Results of pan-European survey on the work conditions of Young Oncologists published in Annals of Oncology

Article in Annals of Oncology

This is the largest burnout survey of European Young Oncologists. Conducted in 2013, the findings were that burnout is common amongst YOs, with varying rates across Europe. Led by former YOC member Susana Banerjee (UK) and YOC member Michiel Strijbos (BE), members of Young Oncologists Committee (2014) have co-authored an article published in Annals of Oncology. The article highlights the reasons for burnout and addresses the need for YOs to achieve a good work/life balance and how access to support services and adequate vacation time may reduce burnout levels. Raising awareness, support and interventional research are needed.

Abstract presentation at the ESMO 2014 Congress

Susana Banerjee

Susana Banerjee

Results of the Young Oncologists Committee (YOC) European burnout survey were presented by lead author YOC member Susana Banerjee (UK) during the ESMO 2014 Congress in Madrid in the Proffered Paper session 'Issues facing oncologists today'. Susana Banerjee coordinated this YOC initiated project in collaboration with former YOC member, David Olmos (ES).

The results of the survey indicated a high number of burnt out clinicians suffering from emotional exhaustion and losing compassion and meaning in their clinical work. Burnout rates vary significantly across Europe: in central Europe, as many as 84.2% of respondents suffer, compared with 52.3% in the North. But despite these variations, burnout truly is a Europe-wide problem. Dr Banerjee said that oncologists deliver bad news and witness suffering and death on a daily basis. She added, “YOs are now facing increasing expectations and workloads with reducing resources.”

Hospitals with small workforces, high patient numbers, and a lack of work-life balance are factors that put oncologists at significant risk of burnout.  Fatigued oncologists offer uncompassionate patient care, but ESMO also worries that they may  leave clinical practice entirely. Dr Banerjee pointed to a similar study run by ASCO this year (Shanafelt TD, et al. J Clin Oncol 2014;32:678–86) and explained, “What was worrying, was that 35% of US oncologists indicated that they would like to leave their current position within 2 years.”

However, YOs in Europe can be reassured that the ESMO YO Committee takes burnout seriously. The important survey results were brought to the attention of thousands of delegates in Madrid during the 2014 congress and hit newspaper headlines across Europe. Raising awareness is key to reducing stigma. If burnout is no longer stigmatised, struggling YOs may feel able to approach senior colleagues for support. Today, 73.4% of trainees and 82.6% of post-trainees never ask for support, while a shocking 74% report no access to support services.

Dr Laurence Albiges from Institut Gustave Roussy, Villejuif, France, dissected the survey results after they were presented yesterday afternoon. She too mentioned the ASCO survey and said that YOs should take comfort in the fact that – despite the threat of burnout – 82% of US oncologists are satisfied with their career choice and speciality.
 “This specialty remains one of the most fascinating and rewarding,” said Chair of the ESMO Young YO Committee, Dr Raffaele Califano from The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and University of South Manchester Hospital, UK. Dr Raffaele urges YOs not to be discouraged. Oncology does not have to be a stressful career, and the YO Committee is taking action to support YOs.

Background

Throughout 2013, the ESMO Young Oncologists Committee (YOC) conducted a survey with the objective of understanding the background causes and level of burnout among young oncologists.

We collected information – anonymously - primarily in Europe, on how young oncologists perceive their job situation early in their career, and how it affects both their professional and private life. More than 700 replies were received, out of which almost 600 were from European respondents.

The YOC feels this is an incredibly important topic which is often ignored. Surveys have been conducted in individual countries previously but this is the first study that addresses medical burnout in oncologists across Europe.

This project is coordinated by YOC member Susana Banerjee (UK) and former YOC member, David Olmos (ES), and we have collaborated with national young oncologists groups in order to help highlight this Europe-wide survey.

We would like to thank all participants for the valuable input and participation in making this data collection possible. A special thank you to everyone who helped distribute the survey on a national level to their local oncology community and networks.