Road to recovery: Cancer in the COVID-19 era

A health workforce under pressure

2020 Statistics Canada survey found than 37% of nurses and 27% of physicians reported poor mental health due to the pandemicHealthcare providers struggling with the impact of COVID-19 face a wide range of challenges including, for many, the risk of burnout and attrition.

  • In a 2021 survey, 13% of registered nurses in Ontario aged 26–35 said they were very likely to leave the profession — four times the normal rate for this age group.1 A December 2020 survey found that one in three registered practical nurses in the province were considering leaving the profession due to the pandemic.2
  • A series of online surveys conducted throughout 2020 found that 40% of medical oncologists were very concerned about burnout, with 87% expecting their workloads to increase even further post-pandemic.3
  • A 2020 Statistics Canada survey found than 37% of nurses and 27% of physicians reported poor mental health due to the pandemic.4
  • Even before the pandemic, nearly three-quarters of cancer care physicians in Ontario met the criteria for burnout, while 25% were considering retiring or changing careers because of their growing workloads.5

The treatment of cancer is always challenging but I can think of no other time in my career even close to this. All aspects were constantly interrupted and changing. And as difficult as this was for us healthcare professionals, I can only imagine the effect on patients. The most difficult time of their lives without any assurances that they can get the care they need.

Dr. Christian Finley, surgical oncologist

Other challenges facing healthcare providers include:6

  • Risks to their own health and safety as well as the well-being of their families — not only due to COVID-19 infection but also protests and violence toward them and their institutions
  • Loss of staff due to illness or disagreements over mandatory vaccination policies
  • Difficulties diagnosing certain cancers virtually, such as skin cancer, which is on the rise
  • Patients presenting with more complex/severe cases due to hospital closings or a reluctance to seek care
  • The inability of specialists to fly to and provide care in remote areas due to travel restrictions
  1. Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. Work and wellbeing survey results. 2021. Available from:
  2. Registered Practical Nurse Association of Ontario. Nursing in Ontario during COVID-19: Exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nursing. 2021. Available from:
  3. Gill S, Hao D, Hirte H, Campbell A, Colwell B. Impact of COVID-19 on Canadian medical oncologist and cancer care: Canadian Association of Medical Oncologists survey report. Curr Oncol. 2020; 27(2):71-74.
  4. Statistics Canada. Mental health among health care workers in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. 2021. Available from:
  5. Singh S, Farrelly A, Chan C, Nicholls B, Nazeri-Rad N, Bellicoso D, et al. Prevalence and workplace drivers of burnout in cancer care physicians in Ontario, Canada. JCO Oncology Practice. 2022;18(1):e60-71.
  6. All.Can. Optimizing diagnosis in Canadian cancer care. 2022. Available from: