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Advanced cancer patients who are parents of minor children experience heightened psychosocial distress. Oncology social workers (OSWs) are essential providers of psychosocial support to parents with advanced cancer. Yet, little is known about the experiences and approaches of OSWs in addressing these patients’ unique needs. The purpose of this study was to characterize the attitudes, practice behaviors, and training experiences of OSWs who provide psychosocial care for advanced cancer patients with minor children.
Forty-one OSWs participated in a cross-sectional survey addressing multiple facets of their psychosocial care for parents with advanced cancer. The five assessed domains of psychosocial support were communication support, emotional support, household support, illness and treatment decision-making support, and end-of-life planning.
Participants reported greatest confidence in counseling patients on communication with children about illness and providing support to co-parents about parenting concerns. OSWs reported less confidence in counseling parents on end-of-life issues and assisting families with non-traditional household structures. The majority of participants reported needing more time in their clinical practice to sufficiently address parents’ psychosocial needs. Nearly 90% of participants were interested in receiving further training on the care of parents with advanced cancer.
Significance of results
To improve the care of parents with advanced cancer, it is critical to understand how the psychosocial oncology workforce perceives its clinical practice needs. Study findings suggest an opportunity for enhanced training, particularly with respect to end-of-life needs and in response to the changing household structure of American families.
Few studies have examined burnout in psychosocial oncology clinicians. The aim of this systematic review was to summarize what is known about the prevalence and severity of burnout in psychosocial clinicians who work in oncology settings and the factors that are believed to contribute or protect against it.
Articles on burnout (including compassion fatigue and secondary trauma) in psychosocial oncology clinicians were identified by searching PubMed/MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, and the Web of Science Core Collection.
Thirty-eight articles were reviewed at the full-text level, and of those, nine met study inclusion criteria. All were published between 2004 and 2018 and included data from 678 psychosocial clinicians. Quality assessment revealed relatively low risk of bias and high methodological quality. Study composition and sample size varied greatly, and the majority of clinicians were aged between 40 and 59 years. Across studies, 10 different measures were used to assess burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue, in addition to factors that might impact burnout, including work engagement, meaning, and moral distress. When compared with other medical professionals, psychosocial oncology clinicians endorsed lower levels of burnout.
Significance of results
This systematic review suggests that psychosocial clinicians are not at increased risk of burnout compared with other health care professionals working in oncology or in mental health. Although the data are quite limited, several factors appear to be associated with less burnout in psychosocial clinicians, including exposure to patient recovery, discussing traumas, less moral distress, and finding meaning in their work. More research using standardized measures of burnout with larger samples of clinicians is needed to examine both prevalence rates and how the experience of burnout changes over time. By virtue of their training, psychosocial clinicians are well placed to support each other and their nursing and medical colleagues.
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