Combating Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Cancer Care

Linda Emanuel, MD, PhD; Frank D. Ferris, MD, FAAPHM; Charles F. von Gunten, MD, PhD; Jaime H. Von Roenn, MD


June 06, 2011

In This Article

Points to Remember

Burnout is prevalent among cancer care providers and physicians. Women are more often affected by burnout than men. Age is an independent predictor of burnout, with a higher prevalence of burnout in people at earlier stages of their careers. To prevent -- or address -- burnout, monitor yourself for signs and symptoms of burnout and compassion fatigue. The lifestyle management techniques will help you maintain balance in life and reduce the risk for burnout. Changes in management strategies combined with educational interventions may further reduce burnout.

Key Take-Home Points

  • Key dimensions of burnout are exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of personal ineffectiveness;

  • Burnout often presents as a feeling that you "don't care anymore;"

  • Burnout is related more to the situation than the individual;

  • Burnout is more prevalent in women than men and those in earlier stages of their careers;

  • Long work hours and work-home interference are strongly associated with burnout;

  • Burnout arises from chronic mismatches between people and their work settings;

  • Job engagement (energy, involvement, and efficacy) is conceptualized as the opposite of burnout;

  • Burnout, in contrast with depression, is specific to the work context;

  • Lifestyle management techniques (exercise, meditation, humor, etc.) can reduce vulnerability to burnout; and

  • Burnout can be prevented by changes in management combined with educational interventions and improved communication.

Pearls and Pitfalls of Burnout

  • Burnout is common; expect it and prevent it;

  • The working conditions, not the patients, are the most common cause of burnout; and

  • Trying to simply "suck it up" does not work.


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