Research raises concerns about the health of the oncology profession

December 5, 2016, University of New South Wales
Research raises concerns about the health  of the oncology profession
Credit: Shutterstock

Workforce changes, work intensification and workload stress within the oncology profession are taking their toll on staff, with implications for patient care, UNSW research has found.

Work intensification, workload stress and an uncertain professional future are taking their toll on some oncologists and potentially affecting the quality of the care they can offer, according to a new study.

University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sociology Professor Alex Broom, who led the study, said the research raised new and urgent concerns for the Australian Government and health services regarding support for the oncology profession in Australia.

The results of the study, "Medical oncologists' experiences of their profession", have been published in PLOS ONE.

Professor Broom said that every year in NSW more than 37,500 new cases of cancer were diagnosed. Of those, 66% of people were still alive within five years of diagnosis, meaning that quality ongoing cancer care from a supportive oncologist was vital to maintaining quality of life.

Professor Broom said the oncology workforce had changed dramatically over the past decade and many of the study participants said their careers looked very different now than when they entered the workforce.

"As shown in our study, there are often few or any jobs for young or junior oncologists in major cities or in the areas they want to live in. This reflects a trend of cancer services often being trimmed or not keeping up with demand. This raises the problem that despite long periods in training, oncology may not represent a stable and attractive career for its juniors. This has acute implications for the future of cancer care in Australia," Professor Broom said.

He said one of the most concerning outcomes of the study was that the intensification of oncological work, workload stress and uncertain professional futures was making the emotional work of oncology more difficult.

"Oncologists deal with difficult emotions every day. They may have to tell numerous people in one clinic that they have cancer or a limited life expectancy. This is already an impossibly hard job, let alone when patient numbers rise, treatment volume intensifies, and the workforce becomes more fractionalised and insecure."

Burnout and emotional fatigue were the likely implications, which would have a severe impact on patients, families and clinicians, he said.

The study drew on in-depth qualitative interviews with 22 medical oncologists, including advanced trainees, early-career consultants and senior consultants, and focused on professional values and experiences, career prospects and pathways, and the nexus of the characteristics of the profession and delivery of care.

The study also highlighted the implications of private/public work in medicine and the fact that public funding for did not always keep up with the rates of cancer seen in communities.

"There is a tendency toward public hospitals advertising fractional appointments, which are part-time appointments focusing on high-intensity clinical work rather than other aspects of an oncologist's role such as research or professional development. These part-time appointments also mean that oncologists increasingly have no choice but to work privately and publically, making it difficult to balance interests across both sectors," Professor Broom said.

He said the study also illustrated how committed Australian oncologists are, and how much they emphasised high quality , including time spent with patients and families. Yet workforce changes over the past few years were threatening these values and thus the quality of care given to patients across Australia. 

Explore further: More than 70 percent of young oncologists in Europe suffer symptoms of burnout

More information: Alex Broom et al. A Qualitative Study of Medical Oncologists' Experiences of Their Profession and Workforce Sustainability, PLOS ONE (2016). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0166302

Related Stories

More than 70 percent of young oncologists in Europe suffer symptoms of burnout

September 26, 2014
Across Europe, more than 70% of young cancer specialists are showing signs of burnout, the largest survey of its kind has revealed. The results, reported at the Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO ...

Defending medical oncology to assure quality care for cancer patients

December 13, 2013
Medical oncologists have a vital role to play in cancer care, particularly as treatments become ever more complex, a new position statement [1] from the European Society for Medical Oncology says.

Oncologists report high career satisfaction

February 6, 2014
(HealthDay)—Oncologists are overall very satisfied with their careers, according to a study published online Jan. 27 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Female oncologists report more grief responses, burnout

August 16, 2016
(HealthDay)—Female oncologists report more grief responses to patient death, more emotional distress, and more burnout than male oncologists, according to a study published online Aug. 10 in Cancer.

'Mystery shopper' study finds barriers to palliative care at major cancer centers

September 7, 2016
A team of researchers, using a novel approach, found that while many cancer centers offer palliative and supportive care services, patients may face challenges when trying to access them. The study showed that expanding awareness ...

Oncology fellows, clinicians report similar burnout

July 28, 2014
(HealthDay)—U.S. oncology fellows may underestimate the workload they will experience once they enter practice, according to research published online July 21 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Recommended for you

Researchers develop swallowable test to detect pre-cancerous Barrett's esophagus

January 17, 2018
Investigators at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center have developed a simple, swallowable test for early detection of Barrett's esophagus that offers promise ...

Scientists zoom in to watch DNA code being read

January 17, 2018
Scientists have unveiled incredible images of how the DNA code is read and interpreted—revealing new detail about one of the fundamental processes of life.

T-cells engineered to outsmart tumors induce clinical responses in relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma

January 16, 2018
WASHINGTON-(Jan. 16, 2018)-Tumors have come up with ingenious strategies that enable them to evade detection and destruction by the immune system. So, a research team that includes Children's National Health System clinician-researchers ...

Researchers identify new treatment target for melanoma

January 16, 2018
Researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have identified a new therapeutic target for the treatment of melanoma. For decades, research has associated female sex and a history of previous ...

More evidence of link between severe gum disease and cancer risk

January 16, 2018
Data collected during a long-term health study provides additional evidence for a link between increased risk of cancer in individuals with advanced gum disease, according to a new collaborative study led by epidemiologists ...

Researchers develop a remote-controlled cancer immunotherapy system

January 15, 2018
A team of researchers has developed an ultrasound-based system that can non-invasively and remotely control genetic processes in live immune T cells so that they recognize and kill cancer cells.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.