Coping With the Shortage of Oncologists

Tony Hagen @oncobiz
Published: Wednesday, Apr 04, 2018
Emmanuel S. Antonarakis, MD

Mark S. Soberman, MD, MBA
The shortage of doctors and other professionals to fill available positions in oncology practice is not news to practitioners—the American Society of Clinical Oncology has long chronicled the growing need for young oncologists to fill the ranks as senior ones retire or leave due to burnout. The rising population and growing access to care also contribute to this trend. But the dimensions of this workforce deficit became starkly clear with the release of 2017 survey data from the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC).


Figure. Staffing Trends, Oncology Practices1

The findings underscore the need to train more oncologists, radiologists, and surgeons to fill available openings, but they also indicate a need to delegate more routine work to advanced practice providers (APPs) and other healthcare professionals, he said. “We have to be creative. We have to think outside the box in terms of what the current care model is if we’re going to meet the needs of the future, because the old way of doing things may not suffice.”

Insights into staffing considerations were among the key findings in the survey. Other areas of interest include trends in the use of molecular tumor boards, the challenges of trying to improve care in the face of financial pressures, and intergrating new technology into practice.

Giving APPs Freedom to Act

Bringing APPs on board is 1 solution to the problem of not enough oncologists, but it entails cultural and procedural adaptation to ensure that APPs are satisfied with their roles and allowed to work at the top of their abilities, because they too are in demand and can switch jobs almost at will, according to Jason Astrin, PA-C, MBA, DFAAPA, director of Advanced Practice Provider Services for The US Oncology Network (see related story on page 56). One in 3 ACCC survey respondents reported open positions for APPs. In addition, 66% reported open full-time equivalent (FTE) positions for oncology nurses, and 1 in 4 reported FTE nurse navigator and registrar vacancies.
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