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Survey Finds High Rates of Burnout Among Palliative Care Physicians, With Over 50% Predicted to Leave the Field in 10 Years

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Key Points

  • Physician burnout in palliative care is higher (over 62%) than the burnout rate reported in other disciplines of medical oncology (45%).
  • Younger age, having fewer colleagues, working longer hours, and working weekends were all associated with burnout severity.
  • 25% of physicians are predicted to leave the field of palliative care in 5 years, and 50% are predicted to leave the field over the next decade. 

Physician burnout in palliative care is higher—over 62%—than the burnout rate reported in medical oncology—45%—according to a large survey of over 1,200 hospice and palliative care clinicians. The factors contributing to professional burnout severity included younger age, working in isolation, and working longer hours. The study by Kamal et al was presented at the 2014 Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium in Boston (Abstract 87).

Study Methodology

The researchers surveyed members of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, which included advanced practice providers, registered nurses, social workers, and chaplains. Participants completed the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) via electronic survey in the second half of 2013. Respondents were recruited by e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter. The MBI determined burnout severity across two domains: emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.

Study Results

The researchers received surveys from 1,241 clinicians, 68% of whom were physicians. Most respondents were over age 50 (57%), female (65%), married or partnered (82%), and had worked in the field for less than 10 years (67%). Forty-two percent of the respondents reported taking overnight calls regularly, 30% reported working 50 hours per week or more, and 57% had at least four colleagues.

Regarding burnout, 24% of respondents reported high depersonalization, 59% reported high emotional exhaustion, and 62.2% reported overall high burnout symptoms on either emotional exhaustion or depersonalization scales. The researchers found that younger physicians, those working more than 50 hours per week, and those with fewer colleagues within their practice were at greatest risk of burnout (P < .02).

“One in four [physicians] will leave the field in 5 years, and 50% [of physicians] will leave the field in 10 years,” said Arif H. Kamal, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Director, Quality and Outcomes at Duke Cancer Institute, Duke University School of Medicine, and first author of the study, at the Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium.

“Further studies on how burnout affects sustainability of the palliative care workforce are needed, especially since this workforce is so critical to the provision of high-quality cancer care,” concluded the researchers.

The study authors reported no potential conflicts of interest.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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