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Oncologists’ negative attitudes towards expressing emotion over patient death and burnout

Abstract

Purpose

The aims of this study were to examine the relationship between negative attitudes towards expressing emotion following patient death and burnout in oncologists and to explore oncologists’ preferences for institutional interventions to deal with patient death.

Methods

The participants included a convenience sample of 177 oncologists from Israel and Canada. Oncologists completed a questionnaire package that included a sociodemographic survey, a burnout measure, a survey assessing negative attitudes towards expressing emotion, and a survey assessing desired interventions to cope with patient death. To examine the association between burnout and negative attitudes while controlling for the effect of sociodemographic variables, a hierarchical linear regression was computed.

Results

Higher burnout scores were related to higher negative attitudes towards perceived expressed emotion (partial r = .25, p < .01) of those who viewed this affect as a weakness and as a sign of unprofessionalism. Approximately half of the oncologists found each of the five categories of institutional interventions (pedagogical strategies, emotional support, group/peer support, taking time off, and research and training) helpful in coping with patient death.

Conclusions

Our findings suggest that high burnout scores are associated with negative attitudes towards expressing emotion and that there is a wide variation in oncologist preferences in coping with patient death. Institutions should promote interventions that are varied and that focus on the needs of oncologists in order to reduce burnout. Interventions that legitimize expression of emotion about patient death may be useful. Another way to reduce stigma would be to require oncologists to “opt out” rather than “opt in” to accessing a selection of social and/or individual interventions.

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Correspondence to Leeat Granek.

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Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Funding

This study was partly funded by the Israel Cancer Association.

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Granek, L., Ben-David, M., Nakash, O. et al. Oncologists’ negative attitudes towards expressing emotion over patient death and burnout. Support Care Cancer 25, 1607–1614 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-016-3562-y

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Keywords

  • Burnout
  • Patient death
  • Stigma
  • Oncologists
  • Oncology
  • Coping