Jul 22, 2019 | Updated: 09:15 AM EDT

Oncologists at Higher Risk For Depression, Anxiety, and Burnout

Jul 03, 2019 09:22 AM EDT

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(Photo : Darko Stojanovic)


In the field of oncology, it is not rare to lose a patient. Surveys have revealed that 90% of the people that an oncologist would see will go on to die as a result of their disease

Ashley Sumrall, a brain oncologist, got a case that would stay with her for the rest of her career.

The patient named David, a former White House aide had come into Dr. Sumrall's care after several years of experimental trials have failed in stopping the progression of his glioma. Dr. Sumrall already knew that the case would be difficult because of David's initial refusal to accept muscle-destroying steroids. Over time, Dr. Sumrall became so involved with the care of this particular patient that losing him felt like losing a member of her own family.

The assistant professor at the Levine Cancer Institute in North Carolina stated that cancer is truly a disease that affects the whole family. An oncologist is caring not only for the individual with the sickness, but also for their spouse or caregiver, and their adult children because a connection is eventually going to be established between the oncologist and the whole family.

It has been known that cancer is a devastating diagnosis for the patient and their loved ones. However, there is another under-examined area when it comes to cancer. There have been very few studies on its impact on those involved in its care. Experts say that doctors and caregivers are also at a higher risk for anxiety, burnout, and depression.

In the previous year, the American Psychiatric Association has revealed that a doctor commits suicide every day in the US. With 28 to 40 per 100,000 ending their lives. This makes the highest rate of any profession, amounting to more than twice the rate for the general population.

Bill Eley, an oncologist and associate dean of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, stated that decisions, in general, do not ask for help for their mental and physical health as soon as other people would. He added that oncologists are wired to walk the people that they care for through the pains that their disease causes. Oncologists are well aware of the stress that they will be subjected to which include physical, emotional, and spiritual stress.

Michelle Riba, a psychologist, and director of the PsychOncology program at the University of Michigan Rojo Cancer Center explained that the stressors are even more intense for an oncologist for several reasons. The oncologist would have long relationships and would often hold the key for the survival of their patients. She added that there is no room for errors and that the field is somewhat compared to a pressure cooker.

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