According to John M. Burke, MD, significant attention has been paid in recent years to the problem of physician burnout and as oncologists continue to care for patients, it important to also care for themselves.
Significant attention has been paid in recent years to the problem of physician burnout, a syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of professional accomplishment. The prevalence of burnout among physicians has reached 50%. Among oncologists, the prevalence is significant, perhaps because the long hours and challenging aspects of our work are balanced by its rewarding nature. Burnout has adverse consequences not only for doctors, but for their coworkers and patients as well. Factors that contribute to it include workplace ineffi ciencies, use of electronic medical records, area of specialization, payment model, and institutional and personal factors—and that was before COVID-19 added a host of new stressors.
Given that burnout has become more common and widely recognized, it is heartening to see that professional societies have taken note—and acted. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) created a Well-Being Task Force that in 2021 released a “roadmap” to enhance oncology clinician well-being and the sustainability of oncology practices. The 2022 ASCO Annual Meeting offered a session entitled “Burnout and Mental Health in Oncology Providers: You Are Not Alone,” which I would recommend to anyone interested in the topic.
And attempts to address the problem are not limited to ASCO. I am now planning my week at the 64th American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting and Exposition. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed during such a gathering—from educational sessions to oral and poster presentations, from investigator meetings about ongoing trials to the get-togethers that take place at every single coffee break and the advisory meetings that start at 6 or end at 11.
As I review the ASH agenda, I see with appreciation that the society has created ways for attendees to decompress. The Wellness Studio offers sessions entitled “Yoga,” “Money Issues Are Burning You Out,” “Fix the Way You Sit,” “A Simple Way to More Resilience,” “Financial Order of Operations,” and many others.
Clearly, ASH has recognized that the conference can be busy and stressful, and it has hired professionals to help clinicians cope and reduce burnout in the long run.
I am reminded of the advice a colleague gave me during predawn rounds early in my professional life: “Remember, your career is a marathon, not a sprint.” Those words mean more than ever to me as I enter the second half of my career. The recent death of my mother also serves to remind me that my days are numbered. It’s important for us to work hard, learn as much as we can, advance our field, and improve outcomes for patients. But we cannot forget to take care of ourselves.