Background Oncologists (and other healthcare professionals) often perceive palliative medicine physicians as being overly pessimistic, whilst palliative medicine physicians often perceive oncologists as being overly optimistic. However, there appears to be no scientific evidence to support these perceptions. Hence, we set out to examine the relationship between choice of medical specialty and levels of optimism/pessimism.
Method In April 2016 all oncologists and palliative medicine physicians employed at four cancer centres within the United Kingdom were contacted to complete an online survey. Participants were asked to complete the Life Orientation Test - Revised (LOT-R), which is a validated measure for assessing optimism and pessimism, and also asked to describe a picture of a partially filled wine glass (ie, would you describe the glass as “half full” or “half empty”).
Results 112 participants of different grades (consultant, specialty trainees or “other” doctors) completed the on-line survey in full. There was no difference in LOT-R scores between oncologists and palliative medicine physicians, but there was a statistically significant difference in LOT-R pessimism scores between consultants and specialty trainees (p=0.03). There was also no difference in the glass half full/half empty question between oncologists and palliative medicine physicians, or in this case between consultants and specialty trainees.
Conclusions The results of this study refute the perception that palliative medicine physicians are overly pessimistic (and that oncologists are overly optimistic). Interestingly, specialty trainees were generally less optimistic than consultants, which may reflect the current challenges facing junior doctors in the United Kingdom or that experience and/or training can indeed influence an individual’s outlook on the world.
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