Highlights from

ESMO 2020

European Society for Medical Oncology Congress 2020

Virtual 19 - 21 September 2020

COVID-19 also affects the wellbeing of oncology professionals

With over 25 million confirmed cases and almost 1 million deaths in the 6 months since the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 has changed our lives dramatically. In addition, the way cancer care is delivered and thus the working practice of oncology professionals has been changed. The ESMO Resilience Task Force conducted a survey to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 and the changes in working (and daily) practice on the wellbeing and professional performance of oncology professionals.

Dr Susanna Banerjee (The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, UK) presented the initial results of the survey [1]. Two anonymous survey series were disseminated via email and social media, the first in April/May 2020 and the second in July/August 2020. Key outcomes of interest were wellbeing, risk of distress and burnout, and COVID-19 job performance.

In the first survey (1,520 participants from 101 countries) wellbeing and job performance since COVID-19 appeared to have an inverse relationship to the estimated COVID-19 crude mortality rate. As the mortality rate increased in a geographical location, perceptions of job performance and wellbeing deteriorated. In contrast, burnout did not appear to follow patterns of COVID-19 crude mortality rates. Positive predictors for wellbeing or distress are feeling valued by the organisation, age over 40 years, being male, and a change in physical activity. Some negative predictors are worrying about current wellbeing, increased amount of work, concerns about the impact on training and career, and need to self-isolate. Psychological resilience – which also encompasses the ability to adapt to changes at work – was also predictive of wellbeing and burnout levels. In light of these findings, resilience training is one of the key measures that could be implemented to help improve wellbeing among oncology professionals, Dr Banerjee concluded.

Of the participants, 67% reported a change in professional duties, including more remote consultations, more hours working at home, covering for non-oncology specialties, and reduced clinical trial activity. Improved job performance was associated with both adequate job control and psychological resilience. So, it is essential that workplaces maintain good leadership to support their oncology professionals. They need to feel they have adequate control of their job, and there is room to support trainees and for career development, Dr Banerjee concluded.

In the second survey, the percentage of participants at risk for distress was higher compared with the first survey: 33% versus 25%, respectively. In addition, the percentage of self-reported burnout had increased from 38% to 49%. On the other hand, job performance had improved over time, with 51% reporting a favourable job performance in July/August, compared with 34% in April/May.

When asked what they think would be helpful going forward, participants mentioned counselling and psychological support, courses on wellbeing, burnout, and coping strategies, a practical guide or self-help resource, and flexible working hours including working from home. The next ESMO Resilience Task Force Survey III is planned for early 2021.

  1. Banerjee S, et al. The impact of COVID-19 on oncology professionals: initial results of The ESMO Resilience Task Force Survey Collaboration. ESMO Virtual Congress 2020, abstract LBA70.

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The content and interpretation of these conference highlights are the views and comments of the speakers/authors.