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Emotional Cost of Providing Oncology Care

Posted 1/30/2014

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  This is a break from the usual routine and a presentation of a different perspective--one that you may or may not be much interested in reading. The article from Medpage summarizes a recent study from the Journal of Clinical Oncology that reported a survey of medical oncologists. More than half answered in ways that fit the definition of emotional burnout. Is this your responsibility? Absolutely not. However, it can easily become your problem. 

  Please do not misunderstand the statement that your doctor's emotional exhaustion may become your problem. It is absolutely not yours to fix in any way. But an emotionally depleted oncologist will not be able to give you the best kind of fully engaged and humanistic care--and that is a problem for you. Or, at least, it means that your care won't be what you deserve.

  There are many reasons, easy to understand, why a doctor may feel this way. There can be a great deal of real sadness, grief even, in an oncologist's day. All of us who work in Cancer World spend our days surrounded by big troubles. To the human dimension, which likely is the most taxing, add the pressures of a busy schedule, financial bars set by the hospital or practice (that can mean that a doctor must see X number of patients in a given day), the usual quirks of professional life, and all the personal concerns or problems that he doctor is carrying. In my hospital, we talk a lot about this and try, from the beginning of specialty training to teach our Fellows ways to process and cope and thrive. For all of us, there will be particular patients or situations that break our hearts. The chronic problem is less those particularly special relationships and losses and more the day to day grind that can become overwhelming.

  I really would love to hear your thoughts about this. Here is the beginning and a link:

OncoBlog: The Emotional Cost of Cancer Care
By Charles Bankhead

As a writer for MedPage Today, my encounters with doctors lean heavily in the direction of
the scientific or clinical "business." Only occasionally do I delve into the financial, social, or
personal side of medical practice.
The well-received MedPage Today series "10 Questions" has revealed more of the "human"
side of medicine than I have witnessed in a long time, going back to the days when I regularly
watched TV shows such as "St. Elsewhere,""ER", and "House MD". But that was just "pretend
medicine," right?
In "10 Questions," doctors (and other healthcare professionals) have responded to questions
dealing with the personal side of clinical practice and research. Answers to one question in
particular have intrigued me: How do you avoid burnout?
Even though I have read a fair amount about burnout in the medical profession, I guess I
never gave much thought to how widespread the problem might be. A study published this
week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology came as a real eye-opener: Almost half of 1,117
oncologists who responded to the survey met criteria for professional burnout.


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