Open Access Research article

Can a single question effectively screen for burnout in Australian cancer care workers?

Vibeke Hansen* and Afaf Girgis

Author Affiliations

Centre for Health Research & Psycho-oncology(CHeRP), The Cancer Council NSW, University of Newcastle & Hunter Medical Research Institute, David Maddison Building, Callaghan NSW 2308, Australia

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:341  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-341

Published: 16 December 2010



Burnout has important clinical and professional implications among health care workers, with high levels of burnout documented in oncology staff. The aim of this study was to ascertain how well a brief single-item measure could be used to screen for burnout in the Australian oncology workforce.


During 2007, 1322 members of the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia were invited to participate in a cross-sectional nationwide survey; 740 (56%) of eligible members consented and completed the survey. Data from the 638 consenting members who reported that their work involved direct patient contact were included in the secondary analyses reported in this paper. Burnout was assessed using the MBI Human Services Survey Emotional Exhaustion sub-scale and a single-item self-defined burnout scale.


Emotional exhaustion was "high" in 33% of the sample when assessed by the psychometrically validated MBI. The single-item burnout measure identified 28% of the sample who classified themselves as "definitely burning out", "having persistent symptoms of burnout", or "completely burned out". MBI Emotional Exhaustion was significantly correlated with the single-item burnout measure (r = 0.68, p < 0.0001) and an ANOVA yielded an R2 of 0.5 (p < 0.0001).


The moderate to high correlation between the single-item self-defined burnout measure and the emotional exhaustion component of burnout suggest that this single item can effectively screen for burnout in health care settings which are time-poor for assessing burnout more comprehensively.