“Helping the Helpers”: The Impact of COVID-19 on Work and Home Stress for Oncology Professionals

November 2021 Vol 12, No 11 —December 16, 2021
Kara Downey, MSW
Cancer Support Community
Washington, DC
Susan Ash-Lee, LCSW
Cancer Support Community
Washington, DC

Background: The Cancer Support Community (CSC) is a leader in providing psychosocial care and has recognized the importance of understanding the effects of COVID-19 on healthcare professionals and addressing gaps in identified supports. Recent national US surveys have found a 45% burnout prevalence rate among oncologists, while other global studies have suggested burnout rates in oncologists ranging from 20% to 70%. In October 2020, a survey was disseminated to a wide range of oncology professionals to understand the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on work and home life, including stressors related to burnout and other challenges such as compassion fatigue.

Objective: To understand the stressors related to burnout and other challenges, such as compassion fatigue, is highly relevant as it affects personal well-being and quality of life of the healthcare professional. Currently no research exists regarding the impact of COVID-19 on work and home stress among oncology helping professionals.

Methods: CSC disseminated an anonymous survey throughout its affiliate network, Healthcare Partners, and the larger oncology community. The target audience of oncology helping professionals included physicians, social workers, nurses, physician’s assistants, psychologists, and other mental health professionals. There were 3 parts to this survey: (1) demographic questions, (2) the Professional Quality of Life Scale, and (3) an open-ended response to stressors experienced at work and at home due to COVID-19.

Results: Eighty-six individuals participated in the survey. Results from this study indicate moderate levels of compassion satisfaction (M = 40.4, SD = 5.9), burnout (M = 24, SD = 6.7), and secondary traumatic stress (M = 22.9, SD = 6.4) among respondents. Bivariate analyses indicated nonwhite oncology professionals reported lower compassion satisfaction compared with whites, and hospital workers reported higher levels of burnout compared with staff in nonhospital settings. The most common stressors that oncology professionals reported experiencing at work due to COVID-19 included the primary themes of workplace issues (eg, less in-person contact), patient care (eg, increased patient needs/distress), and health (eg, concern for personal or family health/fear of COVID-19). The most common stressors that respondents reported experiencing at home due to COVID-19 also included 3 primary themes: health (eg, isolation/loneliness), family and children (eg, online school/homeschooling), and financial (eg, job insecurity).

Conclusion: Survey results underscore the stress of COVID-19 on oncology professionals and the unique impact the pandemic has had on work and home-life stressors in this population. Survey results can be used as an important tool to identify support gaps and create target resources, as well as serve as a base for future research.


Glaser BG, Strauss AL. The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine; 1967.

Murali K, Makker V, Lynch J, Banerjee S. From Burnout to Resilience: An Update for Oncologists. American Society of Clinical Oncology Educational Book. https://ascopubs.org/doi/full/10.1200/edbk_201023.

Hudnall Stamm B. ProQOL. Professional Quality of Life Scale: Compassion Satisfaction and Compassion Fatigue. www.proqol.org. 2010.

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