To gauge the level of burnout in the multidisciplinary cancer care team, ACCC recently surveyed its membership using the clinically validated Mini Z survey developed by the American Medical Association. While only a small number of respondents (14.9%) report dissatisfaction with their current job, burnout and stress levels are significant.
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The sixth annual ACCC Institute held in Washington, D.C., on June 27, 2018, convened more than 30 experts in cancer care, wellness, and resiliency to share insights on what is fueling burnout among members of the cancer care team and what needs to happen on both on both a micro and macro level to support and improve team well-being. The day-long forum discussion focused on ACCC President Tom Gallo’s 2018-2019 presidential theme: Reflect, Renew, Reignite: Creating a Resilient Oncology Team in Your Community.
Read the Executive Summary
Training in community-based psychological first aid is a promising intervention that promotes adaptive functioning by instilling individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to support oneself and others when stressful events occur. The Avera Cancer Institute, Sioux Falls, S.D., has conducted Community-Based Psychological First Aid for Oncology Professionals for its workforce since August 2017.
Although physical and emotional fatigue is the most common side effect of cancer treatment, it remains underreported, underdiagnosed, and undertreated. Yet the exhaustion patients experience can significantly interfere with their daily functioning, and fatigue can persist for months or even years after treatment ends.
Of the non-pharmacologic interventions for cancer-related fatigue, researchers have found exercise to have the strongest potential to produce a therapeutic benefit. Exercise improves a wide range of biopsychosocial outcomes in patients with cancer. Studies have demonstrated that patients who exercise are less tired, less depressed, and sleep better.
Of course, this can be counterintuitive for patients, who often reduce or stop exercising when undergoing fatigue-inducing treatments such as radiation. To counteract this impulse, oncology social workers at Mount Sinai Downtown Cancer Centers in New York City developed a quality improvement initiative to teach patients about the positive effects of exercise during treatment.
The cancer centers—which include three outpatient oncology practices within one hospital system—used the PDSA (plan, do, study, act) quality improvement tool to gauge behavioral change in patients during the study. This tool works by testing a change (plan), carrying out the test (do), observing and learning from the consequences (study), and then determining what modifications should be made to the test (act).
Exercise during treatment
At the start of the initiative, oncology social workers at Mount Sinai met with patients within their first 10 days of radiation treatment. The social workers gave the patients aerobics DVDs tailored for people with cancer, educational information about fatigue, and information on free exercise programs offered onsite and in the community. During this initial meeting, the social workers asked the patients if they exercised.
When the social workers met with the same patients a second time one week after they completed their radiation treatment, they asked several questions about the patients’ exercise routines while being treated. The social workers used the Brief Fatigue Inventory (BFI) to measure patients’ self-reported fatigue. The BFI assesses the severity of fatigue and its impact on daily functioning in patients with cancer. Patients were asked to rate their level of fatigue from 0, which indicates no fatigue, to 10, which indicates the worst fatigue imaginable. A global fatigue score is obtained by averaging all items on the BFI.
Social workers gathered complete data for 38 patients. Patients who reported exercising during treatment had an average initial BFI score of 2.0 and an average post-treatment score of 2.5. Patients who reported not exercising during treatment had an average initial BFI score of 3.1 and an average post-treatment BFI score of 2.9.
The results indicate that patients who exercised while receiving radiation treatment had lower average BFI scores than patients who did not exercise during treatment. This is consistent with the findings of other cancer-related fatigue studies, although it is not statistically significant.
The data also indicates that patients who exercised during treatment had an increase in fatigue post-treatment, whereas people who did not exercise had a decrease in fatigue post-treatment. One could infer that having a lower baseline BFI score might make patients more susceptible to experiencing fatigue during treatment and that exercise may prevent them from becoming as fatigued as they would have had they not exercised.
At many cancer programs, exercise and wellness programs are offered free of charge, and patients should be made aware of the availability of these and other community resources. Oncology social workers, patient navigators, and advanced practice nurses often have access to information about these programs and should share it with patients. Oncologists should explain to patients the role of exercise in cancer prevention, treatment, and survivorship and emphasize the health benefits associated with exercise during treatment.
A future direction for this initiative may include collaboration with additional providers, such as nurses, to increase the dissemination of information to patients and provide important clinical perspectives. Although this pilot project was limited by its small sample size, it has yielded enough encouraging information to recommend a larger study.
This post is adapted from “Providing Psycho-Education to Combat Fatigue,” an article by Shannon Morton, LMSW, MA; Alison Snow, PhD, LCSW, OSW-C; Anthony H. Bui, MS3; and Manjeet Chadha, MD. It first appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Oncology Issues.
Burnout is on the rise as oncology becomes increasingly complex with new treatment options, growing financial toxicity, an aging patient population, and an increasingly burdensome healthcare system. It has received much media attention, with some calling it an epidemic.
Thomas A. Gallo, MS, MDA, ACCC President, selected his 2018–2019 president’s theme: Reflect, Renew, Reignite: Creating a Resilient Oncology Team in Your Community, in order to shed light on the pain points that frustrate physicians, nurses, social workers, administrators, pharmacists, and all of the other professionals who collaborate to provide the highest level of patient care.
The ACCC 35th National Oncology Conference, October 17 – 19, in Phoenix, AZ, featured stories and strategies for fostering resilience and a healthcare culture that mitigates burnout among all members of the cancer care team. Three featured speakers inspired while providing practical strategies to help increase engagement, transform your work culture, and embrace experimentation.
ACCC is committed to identifying shared strategies and solutions to help combat the burnout and frustration that many of its members experience. This Building a Resilient Oncology Team: Issues and Solutions infographic details key findings on clinician burnout and a bevy of solutions to help you mitigate stress and bring the joy back to your workplace.
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