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Healthcare Burnout: An Epidemic Among Oncology Nurses

May 4, 2023
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Many of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting feelings of burnout came to a head when 7,000 nurses went on strike at Montefiore Medical Center and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City early this year. According to the New York State Nurses Association, the nurses went “on strike for fair contracts that improve patient care” after failing to reach an agreement with their respective hospital administrations.

The nursing strike was a symptom of a long-time epidemic plaguing nurses and other healthcare professionals—burnout. “COVID[-19] really did a lot to the nursing workforce,” said Una Hopkins, DNP, RN, FNP-BC, director of research at Montefiore Einstein Center Cancer Care, at the  Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) 49th Annual Meeting & Cancer Center Business Summit (#AMCCBS). Mark Liu, MHA, senior director of oncology strategy, transformation, and analytics, Oncology Service Line at Mount Sinai Health System and Tisch Cancer Institute, echoed her sentiments. “During COVID[-19], there were long, incredibly intense days. We were home for maybe four hours on some days. The uncertainty of not knowing when it would end—it was very tough,” he said.

The consequences of the burnout discussed by Hopkins and Liu are concerning, as findings from the 2022 ACCC Mini Z burnout survey suggest that nurses and physician assistants are feeling more burned out than ever before. The Mini Z burnout survey is a statistically validated tool that measures burnout in healthcare professionals by examining job satisfaction, stress, workplace atmosphere, workload, electronic health record (EHR) proficiency, and time spent in the EHR at home. In addition, this Mini Z survey included a qualitative question to understand how participants defined burnout via a sequence of five pre-constructed answers.

ACCC Mini Z Burnout Survey Results

Administrators, physicians, social workers and financial navigators, nurses and physician assistants, and other oncology professionals made up the 118 participants included in the 2022 survey. According to findings shared by Dr. Barbara Schmidtman at #AMCCBS, nurses and physician assistants reported worse outcome indicators of burnout in job satisfaction, stress, workplace atmosphere, and workload, compared to 2019 survey data.

Further, job satisfaction decreased in the “strongly agree” and “agree” categories by 30 percent​ and increased in the “disagree” and “strongly disagree” categories by about 20 percent. Additionally, feelings of stress among this population increased overall by 20 percent. Although nurses and physician assistants reported a greater level of EHR proficiency, the time they spent in the EHR at home increased in 2022. Finally, nurses and physician assistants more readily defined their workplace atmosphere as “hectic” in 2022 versus “busy” or “calm” in 2019.

Solutions to Prevent Healthcare Burnout

May is Oncology Nursing Month, and May 6 is National Nurses Day. In recognition, ACCC is spotlighting these critical members of the multidisciplinary cancer care team and the need for greater support among the workforce, especially as healthcare providers return to their pre-COVID-19 operations. Streamlining the EHR, reducing stress in the workplace, as well as facilitating open dialogue between administrative staff and nurses can help decrease burnout and keep nurses in the field.

“One of the greatest challenges we face over the next decade is related to our oncology workforce,” said Dr. Olalekan Ajayi, MBA, when announcing his 2023-2024 ACCC President’s Theme: (Re)Building the Oncology Workforce to Deliver Next Generation Cancer Care. In recognition of the challenges burnout poses to the greater oncology workforce, ACCC is committed to providing leaders and care teams the resources needed to understand and address workforce-related challenges like burnout—thus ensuring staff can deliver next generation cancer care.

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