U.S. oncology fellows may underestimate the workload they will experience once they enter practice, according to research published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Tait D. Shanafelt, M.D., from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues conducted a postexamination survey among U.S. oncology fellows taking the 2013 Medical Oncology In-Training Examination (MedOnc ITE). The authors sought to assess fellows’ career plans, professional expectations, burnout, quality of life (QOL), fatigue, and satisfaction with work-life balance (WLB).

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The researchers found that, of the 1,345 respondents, frequency of burnout among fellows overall was similar to that of practicing oncologists. Practicing oncologists reported lower fatigue (P < 0.001) and better overall QOL scores (P < 0.001) than fellows, but were less satisfied with WLB (P = 0.0031) and specialty choice (P < 0.001). 

Regarding future work hours, fellows’ expectations were five to six hours per week fewer than oncologists’ actual reported work hours. ITE scores were inversely associated with levels of burnout (P = 0.02) and educational debt (P ≤ 0.004).

“Unrealized expectations regarding work hours may contribute to future professional dissatisfaction, burnout, and challenges with WLB,” the authors write.

Several authors disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

  1. Shanafelt, Tait D. et al. “Oncology Fellows’ Career Plans, Expectations, and Well-Being: Do Fellows Know What They Are Getting Into?” doi: 10.1200/JCO.2014.56.2827. July 21, 2014.