A general lack of consistency in the role for psychologists was observed across 18 cancer institutions in the United States. These findings were published in JCO Oncology Practice.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Best Practices Committee surveyed 18 NCCN centers about the role of psychologists in their centers. The survey was conducted in 2017.

Most centers (94%) reported having psychologists on staff. The number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) ranged from 1 FTE (17%) to 17 (6%). The psychologist to patient ratio varied from 1:547 to 1:8034.


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A mixture of appointments was observed; 41% had both faculty and staff appointments, 41% were faculty only, and 18% were staff only. Nearly half of responding institutes (43%) reported that some of their psychologists were not directly involved with patient care.

For those clinicians that did engage with patients, the time allotted for patient interaction varied between 15% and 90% of their time. The billing of hours to patient insurance providers ranged between 0% to 100%, as some centers offered psychological services free of charge.

A total of 41% of institutions reported they had no metric for determining whether additional psychologists were needed to join their staff.

A limitation of this study was the low response rate (67%) from contacted institutions. The survey questions were not all encompassing and did not address specific disciplines included in the psychosocial oncology field such as social work, chaplaincy, or psychiatry.

The study authors concluded that there was a general lack for standard clinical expectations for psychologists at cancer centers.

Reference

Melton L, Krause D, Sugalski J. Psychology staffing at cancer centers: data from National Comprehensive Cancer Network member institutions [published online June 30, 2020]. JCO Oncol Pract. doi:10.1200/OP.20.00087.