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Support Care Cancer. 2017 May;25(5):1607-1614. doi: 10.1007/s00520-016-3562-y. Epub 2017 Jan 13.

Oncologists' negative attitudes towards expressing emotion over patient death and burnout.

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Department of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, PO Box 653, 84105, Beer-Sheva, Israel.
Radiation Oncology Department, Sheba Medical Center, Ramat-Gan, Israel & The Sackler School of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel.
Baruch Ivcher School of Psychology, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, Israel.
Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
Department of Oncology, Soroka University Medical Center, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel.
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto, Canada.



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.


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.


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.


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.


Burnout; Coping; Oncologists; Oncology; Patient death; Stigma

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