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Oncologist Wellbeing Tested By The COVID-19 Pandemic

Online surveys have revealed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the wellbeing of oncology professionals
20 Sep 2020
COVID-19 and Cancer

Author: By Lynda Williams, Senior medwireNews Reporter 


medwireNews: The ESMO Resilience Task Force Survey Collaboration has reported results for the first two COVID-19 online surveys, highlighting the effect of the pandemic on oncology professionals. 

Speaking at the ESMO Virtual Congress 2020, presenting author Susana Banerjee, from The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and Institute of Cancer Research in London, UK, said that “COVID-19 is impacting on wellbeing, burnout and job performance” of oncologists working through the pandemic. 

The first survey was completed by 1520 participants from 101 countries between 16 April and 3 May 2020. They were identified through key ESMO groups and the OncoAlert Network, two thirds of whom were based in Europe. Almost half (45%) of respondents were younger than 40 years old, 51% were female and 71% White. The majority (70%) were medical oncologists, with 22% trainees and 58% having over 10 years of experience since their training. 

Susana Banerjee told delegates that there was a significant variation in wellbeing and COVID-19 job performance between countries, and that these indicators were in turn significantly related to the COVID-19 crude mortality rate of their countries on 24 April. 

“As the mortality rate increases, COVID-19 job performance decreases and the wellbeing index scores increase, which suggests higher distress and poorer wellbeing”, Susana Banerjee said. 

“Feeling burnout also varied between countries but was not associated with the COVID-19 crude mortality rate”, she continued. 

Overall, 67% of participants reported a change in their professional duties, such as more remote consultations (50%), increased working from home (33%) and covering for non-oncology specialties (11%), while 38% reported reduced clinical trial activity and 16% a move to COVID-19-related research. 

In addition, 78% reported an increase in concern for their personal safety since the beginning of the pandemic, with only 55% and 51% reporting adequate access to personal protective equipment and training in its use, respectively. 

Regression analyses suggest better wellbeing and lower distress in participants with higher levels of perceived self-reported resilience, as well as in those who felt valued by their organisation and had pleasant working conditions. 

Men and participants over the age of 40 years had lower distress than women and younger individuals, the presenter said. 

Wellbeing and distress were also adversely affected by worry, increased work hours, concerns about training or career, self-isolation with COVID-19 symptoms, reduced activity with clinical trials, avoidance of thinking about the pandemic, change in diet and talking to colleagues for emotional support. 

In addition, participants were less likely to feel “burnout” if they were non-White, and if they had resilience, pleasant working conditions and were supported by their government, whereas participants were more likely to report burnout if they had increased work hours including out of hours work, worry about wellbeing and concerns about their training or career. 

When respondents were asked to rate their job performance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, positive responses were predicted by adequate job control, resilience, and working in surgical or haemato-oncology. But poor performance was associated with concerns about the impact on research and reduced clinical trial work, the crude mortality rate, working from home, distraction and being non-White. 

A second online survey was subsequently completed by 942 oncology professionals between 16 July and 5 August and this showed a significant increase in distress over time, with the proportion of respondents scoring 4 or more on the 9-item Well-Being Index (eWBI) increasing from 25% to 33%. 

Respondents of the second survey were also more likely to report burnout than those of the first survey, increasing from 38% to 49%, although there was a significant improvement over time for the number of participants reporting a favourable job performance based on standard of care and job delivery, increasing from 34% to 51%. 

Paired analysis of the first and second survey responses from 272 participants showed a similar, significant magnitude of change in eWBI (22 vs 31%), burnout (35 vs 49%) and job performance (38 vs 54%), Susana Banerjee said. 

When asked which resources would be helpful going forward, 86% of respondents said flexible working hours, including home working, would be extremely or moderately useful. A further 81% supported use of a workshop or course on wellbeing and coping strategies, 79% counselling or psychological support services and 73% a practical guide or self-help resource. 

“Urgent measures to address wellbeing are essential”, emphasized Susana Banerjee who said that the “identified predictors of wellbeing and performance are a useful way for us to understand where we could make the most positive impact on those who may be particularly at risk.” 

As well as further survey analyses on the gender and age of respondents that are now underway,  a third survey is planned for 2021 to measure wellbeing and performance at 1 year, including a closer look at specific countries, the presenter concluded. 


LBA70_PR Banerjee S, Lim J, Kampsoioras K, et al. The impact of COVID-19 on Oncology Professionals: Initial results of the ESMO Resilience Task Force Survey Collaboration. Annals of Oncology 2020; 31(suppl_4): S1142-S1215. 10.1016/annonc/annonc325. 

medwireNews (www.medwireNews.com) is an independent medical news service provided by Springer Healthcare. © 2020 Springer Healthcare part of the Springer Nature group

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