ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA—An aromatherapy intervention decreased work-stress related to tension, worry, and demands. This study was presented at the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) 39th Annual Congress.

Work-stress and related burnout in oncology is well documented and impacts staff retention. Health and performance are negatively impacted by the long-term effects of work-stress, which has major implications for maintaining a competent and caring staff.

To evaluate the effects of an aromatherapy intervention on work-stress among an oncology nursing staff, Kirsten Roblee, BSN, RN, OCN, and colleagues from the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, OH, diffused essential oils for 6 weeks at a central nursing station. The oncology staff’s work-stress was measured pre- and post-intervention by a questionnaire of perceived staff work-stress that has four subscales: tension, worry, demands, and lack of joy. After considering the square footage of the unit and diffuser placement, one of the three chosen essential oils was diffused over 6 weeks.

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Among the 63% of the staff who responded to the survey on perceived staff work-stress, statistically significant improvements were found in three of four subscales: tension, worry, and demands.

“All four subscales went down except for lack of joy,” Roblee told Oncology Nurse Advisor. “We attributed that to a higher-than-normal amount of deaths during the 6-week study period. I imagine if we had not been diffusing oils that that number would have been a lot higher.”

Ninety-two percent of the staff also stated that they felt more knowledgeable regarding aromatherapy, and 96% expressed interest in supporting a future aromatherapy project.

The research team identified an obstacle in the difficulty of targeting aromatherapy to a group rather than to an individual.

However, the positive results have inspired further investigation on the use of aromatherapy in other settings.

“We submitted a grant and have been approved for an Institutional Review Board study to evaluate the effect of aromatherapy on patients,” Roblee said. “We are currently partnering with physicians and others, and we are going to start studying the effects of aromatherapy on nausea sometime in the next 6 months.”

This study may indicate ways to relieve work-stress through the complementary alternative medicine technique of aromatherapy.

“It just opened up a whole new world of people taking care of themselves and us being able to take care of our colleagues,” Roblee said. “Now, we’re trying aromatherapy with our patients, so it has all been very positive.”


Pinkham KT, Roblee K, Anchor S, et al. Poster 42. Presented at: Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) 39th Annual Congress. May 1-4, 2014; Anaheim, CA.