Objective The aim of this study was to review the literature on clinician characteristics influencing patient-clinician communication or patient outcome in oncology. Methods Studies investigating the association of clinician characteristics with quality of communication and with outcome for adult cancer patients were systematically searched in MEDLINE, PSYINFO, PUBMED, EMBASE, CINHAL, Web of Science and The Cochrane Library up to November 2012. We used the preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses statement to guide our review. Articles were extracted independently by two of the authors using predefined criteria. Results Twenty seven articles met the inclusion criteria. Clinician characteristics included a variety of sociodemographic, relational, and personal characteristics. A positive impact on quality of communication and/or patient outcome was reported for communication skills training, an external locus of control, empathy, a socioemotional approach, shared decision-making style, higher anxiety, and defensiveness. A negative impact was reported for increased level of fatigue and burnout and expression of worry. Professional experience of clinicians was not related to communication and/or to patient outcome, and divergent results were reported for clinician gender, age, stress, posture, and confidence or self-efficacy. Conclusions Various clinician characteristics have different effects on quality of communication and/or patient outcome. Research is needed to investigate the pathways leading to effective communication between clinicians and patients. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.