Earnings Are Down but Oncologists Still Do Well

Shelly Reese


May 17, 2013

In This Article

Lots of Patients, Long Hours, Plenty of Paperwork

The largest percentage of oncologists spends between 30 and 40 hours per week seeing patients. In 2012, 25% spent between 30 and 40 hours per week with patients, down from 26% in 2011 and 30% in 2010. One third (33%) of oncologists spend between 41 and 50 hours per week with patients, while 24% spend more than 50 hours a week. Only 15% of oncologists saw patients for less than 30 hours per week in 2012, down from 16% in 2011.

The largest group of oncologists (26%) has between 50 and 75 patient visits per week. Another 25% see 25-49 patients per week. Patient loads in excess of 100 patients per week aren't unusual in oncology; nearly 1 in 5 oncologists (18%) saw that many patients in 2012, although that was down from about 24% in 2011.

Because of the nature of the specialty, oncologists spend a considerable amount of time with each patient. Nearly a third (32%) spent an average of 17-20 minutes on a patient visit in 2012, up from 28% in 2011 and 23% in 2010. About 27% of oncologists spend 21 or more minutes on the typical patient visit, compared with 33% in 2011.

Roughly two thirds of oncologists (65%) spend less than 9 hours per week in the hospital seeing patients. Only a handful (8%) spends 25 hours or more per week seeing patients in the hospital.

Oncologists are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time tackling paperwork and administrative burdens. Nearly a third (32%) spend 10-14 hours on paperwork and administration each week compared with only 25% of physicians overall. Another third (33%) spend even more time on paperwork, compared with only 27% of physicians overall.

Above-Average Gratification From Patient Relationships

Although the administrative burdens are onerous, Swain, like many oncologists, says that the rewards of the profession compensate for the trials. Nearly 4 out of 10 oncologists (38%) say that their relationships with their patients are the most gratifying aspect of their work. That's well above the 31% of physicians overall who found relationships of paramount importance.

"Our patients are going through very difficult periods in their lives and they put so much trust in us," Swain says. "We develop very close relationships with them. It's really an honor to take care of them."