Oncologists’ compensation also contributed to the risk for burnout: 41% who received only a salary and 54% who were paid only for their productivity reported being burned out. Those with a mixed model of compensation fell in between their salary-only and incentive-only colleagues.

Oncologists in private practice had scores indicating more severe levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization than oncologists in academic practice, but their prevalence of burnout was not significantly greater (51% vs 46%).

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Risks for burnout differed between private and academic practice. Having children reduced the risk of burnout for private practice oncologists by 55% but had no effect on the risk for academics. Being a woman increased the risk for burnout among academic physicians but had no effect among private-practice physicians.

The greatest single factor increasing the risk for burnout was treating only a specific cancer, which increased the risk for burnout among academic physicians by 320%.

Still Committed to the Field

Despite the toll that oncologists experience, few regret their professional choices: 83% said that, if they had to do it over, they would become a physician again and 81% said that they would practice oncology again.

RELATED: Career Satisfaction High Among Oncologists

“Burnout and stress are increasingly recognized as an issue for physicians in general and have been shown to not only affect the individual provider, but also the quality of care that they provide,” Dr. Shanafelt said. Burnout is associated with an increased risk of medical errors and patient dissatisfaction.

The prevalence of burnout among oncologists may have a significant effect on the delivery of cancer care. As the prevalence of cancer rises, a shortage of oncologists is projected to develop over the coming decades, a situation that will worsen if burned-out oncologists change fields or retire early. Staving off burnout by reducing oncologists’ patient load will only add to the shortage, whereas using compensation incentives to increase oncologists’ productivity is likely to increase the numbers suffering from burnout.


  1. Shanafelt TD, Gradishar WJ, Kosty M, et al. Burnout and career satisfaction among US oncologists. J Clin Oncol. 2014;32(7):678-686.