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Become a Pediatric Oncologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a pediatric oncologist. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in pediatric oncology.

Should I Become a Pediatric Oncologist?

Pediatric oncologists treat and diagnose children who suffer from various types of cancer. Afflicted patients typically visit a pediatric oncologist until age 18 to help reduce pain and seek treatments that improve their quality of life.

Like other types of physicians, pediatric oncologists may work in private practice doctors' offices or hospitals. Those that are employed by hospitals may work longer, more irregular hours. There is also a risk of infectious diseases in any medical setting, but especially present in hospitals. The job can be very rewarding in helping sick children feel better, but may also carry a high emotional toil for those cases where treatments are unsuccessful. There is the potential for considerably above-average income in this career. The table below explains the requirements to become a pediatric oncologist, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.)
Degree Field Medicine
Licensure Mandatory; must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA)
Certification Voluntary certification is available through American Board of Pediatrics (ABP)
Experience Experience is gained through residency and fellowship programs
Key Skills Excellent communicator, detail-oriented, empathetic, patient, well-organized, good general computer skills, as well as knowledge of healthcare-specific applications and hardware
Salary $187,199 per year (Median salary from May, 2014 for all physicians and surgeons)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Individuals interested in pursuing a degree in the medical field first need to earn an undergraduate degree. While no specific degree is required for pre-med students, coursework in biology, chemistry and physics can give students a good foundation of knowledge for medical school.

Success Tips:

  • Volunteer in a hospital or other healthcare setting. Volunteering in a children's hospital can allow prospective pediatric oncologists to gain valuable experience in a medical setting and begin to learn about what goes into working in this field.
  • Study for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Passing this test is a requirement for admission to medical school.
  • Research medical school options. Learn more about possible medical schools, and narrow down a list of medical schools to which to apply.

Step 2: Pass the MCAT

The MCAT is a multiple-choice test that measures students on a variety of areas, such as problem solving, critical thinking, scientific knowledge and principles necessary to the study of medicine. Scores are reported in three key areas: verbal reasoning, physical sciences and biological sciences. The MCAT is administered several times each year, from January through September.

Step 3: Apply to Medical School

Once MCAT scores have been received and most fourth-year undergraduate coursework has been completed, students should begin applying to medical schools. The most common way to do this is to complete the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) application process. This entails assembling letters of recommendation, background check information, test scores and undergraduate grades in one place. AMCAS then sends the information to the schools of a student's choice.

Success Tip:

  • Continue to spend time volunteering or working in healthcare. Sometimes a gap exists between graduation and acceptance to medical school. This time can be used gaining more experience in the healthcare field, as well as paying down debt in preparation for med school and residency.

Step 4: Graduate from Medical School

Pediatric oncologists must graduate from a medical school accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Students attending medical school can expect to take courses in biological, behavioral, social and clinical sciences. Programs typically take four years to complete. Upon graduation, students will have earned an M.D. or D.O.

Step 5: Obtain Medical Licensure

To practice medicine, graduates of an M.D. program must take the USMLE, and D.O. graduates must take the COMLEX-USA. This test is an evaluation tool that provides information to each individual licensing board. The USMLE assesses the test-takers' understanding of principals related to patient care as well as their knowledge of diseases and healthcare. Individual states may differ in their specific requirements for initial medical licensure.

Step 6: Complete a Pediatric Residency Program

During their 3-year residency, pediatric residents typically complete rotations in cardiology, oncology, hematology and ambulatory care. The final year of residency training generally allows trainees to participate in learning opportunities related to their specific interest or subspecialty.

Step 7: Become Board Certified in Pediatrics

Voluntary certification in general pediatrics through ABP is required if one intends to pursue certification as a pediatric oncologist. Qualifications for general pediatrics certification include graduation from medical school, completion of a 3-year residency in pediatrics and possession of a state medical license. Applicants also must pass a certifying exam. Recertification is based on a pediatric oncologist's professional standing and performance, as well as continuing education and completion of an exam.

Step 8: Participate in a Pediatric Oncology Fellowship

Typical fellowship programs include training in clinical services, bone marrow transplantation, research and outpatient care. A fellowship must be at least three years in length to qualify a pediatric oncologist for subspecialty board certification through ABP.

Step 9: Earn Board Certification in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology

Candidates for voluntary subspecialty certification in pediatric hematology-oncology through ABP must hold board certification in general pediatrics and complete an approved fellowship program in pediatric hematology-oncology. They also must pass a certifying exam. Certification maintenance is based on the same criteria used for general pediatrics. Voluntary certifications demonstrate commitment and dedication to the profession and may lead to career advancement or higher positions in the field.

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