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Majority of European Oncologists Show Signs of being Burned Out

Update Date: Sep 26, 2014 11:55 AM EDT

Treating cancer patients can be an emotionally exhausting job, a new study reported. According to the researchers, the majority of young oncologists working in Europe exhibit burnout symptoms.

"Oncology is an exceptionally rewarding career, but it can be demanding and stressful at times," said the study's lead author, Dr. Susana Banerjee, a consultant medical oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Trust in London, UK. "Oncologists make complex decisions about cancer management, supervise the use of toxic therapies, work long hours, and continually face patients suffering and dying...[They face] increased administration, complaints/medico-legal issues, increasing expectations and workload with reduced resources. Taken together, these factors make oncologists at risk of developing burnout, a syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (treating people as if they are objects), and loss of meaning or purpose in work."

For this study, Dr. Banerjee and her colleagues from the ESMO Young Oncologists Committee sent out surveys to 595 oncologists all under 40-years-old. Based on these answers, the researchers concluded that 71 percent of young oncologists suffer from burnout symptoms. The rate reached 84 percent in central Europe and fell to 52 percent in Northern Europe.

The team stated that this high rate is concerning because these symptoms can lead to problems such as anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and alcohol or substance abuse. These doctors' quality of care could also decrease, potentially jeopardizing the cancer patients' survival rates.

"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 such as ESMO. Burnout should not be stigmatized as a weakness. We need to support colleagues by focusing on recovery and prevention," Banerjee stressed according to the press release.

She added the importance of leading a healthy life/work balance. The study's findings were presented at the Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO 2014) taking place in Madrid, Spain.

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