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James Grayson: The Stigma of Burnout Is Gone and Focus Should Be on the Future

While burnout is being acknowledge much better today, it has been getting worse and there should also be focus on what burnout will look like 20 or 30 years from now, said James Grayson, administrative chief of staff at West Cancer Center.

What is the difference between how burnout was addressed—if it was at all—and how it is now being addressed?

I think this point in time is really kind of the awakening around burnout for this profession. I really don’t think it was addressed previously. Data shows very clearly that burnout has been an increasing problem, so it is safe to say that just the physical existence of burnout 10, 20, 30 years ago was likely not as great as it is now. So, that’s one piece of the puzzle. Culturally, I think it was very difficult to talk about at that point in time in history, as well. So, the end result was there was very little discussion, effort, energy put into looking into it.

I’m happy to say I feel like the stigma of burnout is now gone. We can now talk about it openly and acknowledge that it exists. And that is a huge step. Along with that, I feel like now most organizations are recognizing that the organizational side of the coin needs to do some work in terms of making sure that the infrastructure is there to mitigate as much of the impact as possible on the providers. Whether that is really efficient workflows, policies, processes, schedules. All of that piece needs to be supportive and not a constraint or, worse yet, a burden that the provider needs to carry with them.

I think that organizationally you would find, in oncology especially, that that awakening is occurring. There’s more to do and particularly along the lines of the work with the providers, and the development of capabilities with them around a greater, even still, greater emotional intelligence and emotional agility so they can manage what is throw at them daily.

What changes should be made in the oncology workforce that aren’t currently being discussed?

I would say it’s time now to really start focusing on what is the right human component to be in healthcare and in oncology, specifically. We have awakened to 2018 and we recognize that 2018 is very challenging as it is right now. I’m concerned about what 2030 is going to be or 2040. That’s very personal to me. I have a daughter that is in graduate school in the healthcare industry. 2030, 2040, and 2050 will all be within the realm of her career, and I think we need to be—as an industry, backing all the way into our education part and the recognition early on—recognizing that healthcare in that timeframe is going to look even more drastically different than it is now. So, if there is one place where I would like to see us focusing, it is looking forward and identifying not just what today needs, but what the tomorrow of 2030 needs.