Eric Tetzlaff, MHS, PA-C, DFAAPA
Eric Tetzlaff is the recipient of the 2018 Publishing Award for his paper, National Study of Burnout and Career Satisfaction among Physician Assistants in Oncology: Implications for Team-Based Care. The study, published in the Journal of Oncology Practice, looks at factors that increase the risk of burnout in oncology PAs, but provides important insight for all PAs and their administrators.
AAPA’s Publishing Award is granted to a PA who has published a new clinical or research article that has contributed to the advancement of the PA profession.
Tetzlaff currently practices in the Department of Hematology/Oncology at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In his current role, he focuses on the clinical care of patients with sarcomas and gastrointestinal cancers.
Tetzlaff and his team conducted a national survey of PAs in oncology from late 2015 to early 2016 asking participants about their personal and professional environments, and their feelings about their job. Around one-third of the 250 respondents reported professional burnout.
This high level of burnout may not come as a surprise to providers who work in high-pressure settings like oncology, but the contributing factors are less obvious. The survey showed that indirect patient care and supervising physician-PA relationships both have significant impacts on the rate of PA burnout.
The Root of Burnout
As the healthcare marketplace is evolving, PAs are being asked to perform more administrative tasks that take time away from interacting directly with their patients. PAs who spent more time on direct (face-to-face) patient care within the healthcare team reported the lowest level of burnout.
Similarly, as healthcare has become more collaborative between providers, work relationships have begun to play a larger role in job satisfaction. Risk for burnout was higher among PAs who did not feel valued or encouraged to achieve professional goals by their supervising physician, or did not feel their supervising physician acknowledged their contributions to the practice.
Both of these factors point to the impact practice administration has on its workforce and suggest that institutions are not only hurting their providers, but also their bottom line if they do not implement the best healthcare practices. PAs with poor supervisor relationships have a higher risk for burnout, but they may also be more likely to provide inefficient care or leave the practice.
Improving the collaborative practice, team-based model is vital for increasing provider satisfaction and performance. Tetzlaff noted that providers are not trained on how to best work with other providers and we need to fill this learning gap.
Preventing PA Fatigue
So what are the next steps? Tetzlaff says it starts with old-fashioned team work and communication.
“Building the team relationship is going to be really important moving forward,” he said. “Interventions are going to fail if they are only directed to an individual provider.”
Providers and practice leadership should work together to mitigate burnout and create a solution that involves optimizing PA responsibility and collaboration among the entire healthcare team. There is no “one size fits all” solution, and teams should work together to create and implement strategies that work best for their unique needs.
Overall, Tetzlaff is excited for the future of the PA profession and the oncology specialty.
“People are very excited about working in oncology,” Tetzlaff said. “Yes, it can be challenging, but it is also extremely rewarding.”