Crises in public health and social unrest have heightened the need to support trainee well-being. External factors coupled with oncology-specific factors, such as regularly facing mortality, balancing palliation with toxicity, the rapid pace of treatment advances, and engaging in emotionally charged conversations with patients, can lead to burnout.1 Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a sense of reduced personal accomplishment; it affects physicians and physicians-in-training at greater rates than the general population.2 Emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and burnout affected 28%, 17%, and 33% of radiation oncology residents, respectively, in the United States in 2016.3 Consequences may include inadequate patient care, professional ineffectiveness, and physician harm, including substance abuse, clinical depression, and suicidality.4
Building community is important for increasing professional fulfillment, while decreasing burnout. A recent study described the implementation of a well-being curriculum for residents within a radiation oncology department, which allowed residents to openly discuss topics that cause distress in a supportive environment.5 This intervention led to a decrease in burnout among residents.
Strong relationships among colleagues are essential to identify residents at risk for burnout or depression. Mayo Clinic has proposed 5 steps to recognize and support learners in distress:6
Gergelis K, Laughlin B. Improving Well-Being and Combating Burnout in Radiation Oncology Training. Appl Rad Oncol. 2022;11(1):48.
Dr. Gergelis is a PGY5 resident, Department of Radiation Oncology, Mayo Clinic,Rochester, MN. Dr. Laughlin is a PGY3 resident, Department of Radiation Oncology, Mayo Clinic, Phoenix, AZ.