Background: Healthcare workers, including oncologists, face a higher potential risk of contracting coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) while managing patients. Moreover, the uncertainty that came with COVID-19 and its associated social stigma may worsen what was already a crisis (burnout) among oncologists. Data are scarce on the impact of COVID-19 on the occupational health and safety of oncologists in low and middle-income countries.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional survey in February 2021 to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on practicing oncologists in Alexandria governorate, Egypt. An anonymised self-reporting questionnaire was electronically distributed to 88 participants to collect information on occupational safety at work, the prevalence of COVID-19 among respondents and the impact of COVID-19 on their wellbeing, including perceived burnout and family support.
Results: Out of the 88 contacted oncologists, 75% completed the survey. The mean age of participants was 34.79 years (SD ± 10.42), of which 45% were residents, 36% were specialists and 18% were consultants. Most of the oncologists (58% of 66) felt they were not adequately protected against COVID-19. The majority (78% of 66) have managed COVID-19 infected cancer patients, and 76% (out of 66) had experienced COVID-19 like symptoms. A third (n = 21) of the respondents were confirmed COVID-19 infected: 62% of the latter thought they were infected at the workplace, either by a patient or a colleague. The majority of the oncologists (78%) perceived being more overwhelmed or burned out than in the pre-COVID-19 era. Nearly half of the participants (48%) reported their family members and friends had reduced contact with them despite being COVID-19 negative, in fear of being infected. The burnout was significantly higher in those lacking family support than those who had, 52% versus 28% respectively (p = 0.038).
Conclusions: One-third of practicing oncologists were diagnosed with COVID-19, and most thought they were infected at the hospital. Occupational safety measures, including mental health programs, need to be improved with special emphasis on the role of family support in mitigating perceived burnout among practicing oncologists.