Physical Activity Could Decrease Stress, Burnout in Oncology Nurses

By Leah Lawrence - January 26, 2023

Encouraging physical activity (PA) among registered nurses (RNs) working in ambulatory care cancer clinics seemed to have a positive effect on stress and burnout, according to a recent study.

“Oncology nurses are more likely to suffer from job-related stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout than nurses working in other specialties,” study researchers explained. “Self-care practices, such as PA, can moderate compassionate fatigue and burnout. However, little has been reported on these outcomes among oncology ambulatory care nurses, who work in the clinical setting where most patients receive cancer care.”

Researchers invited 172 oncology RNs to participate in this 12-week pilot study. Participants were recruited using emails, posted flyers, staff meetings, and daily huddles. Participation was voluntary, but participants were encouraged to engage in self-directed PA. Compassion fatigue and burnout were then assessed at weeks 0, 6, and 12.

Of the 172 RNs recruited, 53 enrolled (31%). Participants decreased with each assessment; 51 RNs completed baseline data collection, 24 completed week 6, and 19 completed week 12. The average participant was aged 39 years, female, White, and had more than a decade of nursing experience.

Stress scores decreased from baseline-week 12. The researchers noted that although the decrease did not reach statistical significance, the decrease in this small sample size was promising.

Burnout scores looking at emotional exhaustion were in the low-moderate range. The assessment revealed a moderate level of depersonalization present throughout the study intervention. Personal achievement was also ranked as moderate-high throughout the study.

“Although changes in participants’ compassion fatigue and burnout scores did not reach statistical significance, the study results showed improvements despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the researchers noted.

Leisurely walking increased significantly throughout the study. Average daily step counts increased by 37% for weekdays and 10% for weekend days. This translated to a 29% increase for the total week.

“Participants also averaged more than 9,000 steps per day by week 12, which is similar to reported averages among nurses working in a hospital setting,” the researchers wrote. “Although participants did not, on average, meet the daily 10,000 step recommendation, the increase in the number of steps achieved and overall PA are clinically significant.”

To cultivate a healthy work environment, health care systems should regularly evaluate nurses for burnout and compassion fatigue and invest in strategies that support their well-being.


Feasibility and impact of physical activity on compassion fatigue and burnout among ambulatory care oncology nurses.