How to Become an Oncologist

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Oncology is an important field of medicine that deals with studying, diagnosing, and treating cancer. Licensed and specially trained physicians are required to diagnose and treat patients with cancer using a variety of options. This is the job of oncologists.


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What does an oncologist do?

Oncologists diagnose and treat many different types of cancer and related diseases in a variety of patients. They review medical history, specific symptoms, location and stage of the cancer, and other effects. They use a variety of options to diagnose patients such as biopsies, blood tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, MRI scans, and other techniques. They assess each patient and provide a variety of treatment options including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone treatment, and other types of treatment. They follow up with all patients and consistently monitor them to assess if the treatment was successful. Oncologists also treat patients with issues related to the cancer and treatment such as pain, fatigue, nausea, depression, anorexia, and immobility.

What kind of training does an oncologist need?

Like all other doctors, oncologists must graduate from an accredited medical school. They then must complete residency training as a specialist in internal medicine and then additional training in oncology. Many oncologists also complete internships or fellowships in oncology. Some oncologists pursue advance education and training in a subspecialty area such as radiation, pediatric, surgical, gynecological, and medical oncology. Oncologists must also be current on the latest technical advances and treatments options and participate in ongoing continuing education throughout their careers.

All states require oncologists to be licensed. Licensing requirements include graduating from an accredited medical school, completing an internal medicine residency, completing oncology training, and passing a licensing examination. Many oncologists also seek board certification to remain competitive in the field.

What are the prospects for a career as an oncologist?

Employment of all physicians and surgeons is projected to grow faster than average for all professions, increasing 14% from 2006 to 2016 (1). An aging population and more diagnoses of cancer and related diseases will drive job growth for oncologists.

Job prospects are expected to be very good especially for oncologists with advanced education and extensive experience. Job opportunities will also arise from the need to replace oncologists who retire, transfer, or leave the field for other reasons.

How much do oncologists make?

As of October 2009, the middle 50% of oncologists earned average annual salaries between $206,667 and $345,115. The top 10% earned average annual salaries of more than $417,751 (2).

A career as an oncologist is a great choice for individuals who are interested in studying, diagnosing, and treatment many different forms of cancer in a variety of patients. Oncologists must be self-motivated, have good bedside manner, and be able to make quick and effective decisions. They must be emotionally stable and be able to break devastating news to patients and families. Sensitivity, compassion, and ability to work effectively as part of a team are essential.

Joshua T Osborne

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