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Careers in Medical Oncology: Job Options and Degree Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to have a career in medical oncology. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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Oncologists are physicians who treat cancer patients, and, therefore, must graduate from medical school. As part of their training, they need to complete a residency and fellowship in the field of oncology and become certified in the field of oncology. Oncologists typically work for hospitals, medical centers, cancer centers or have their own practices.

Essential Information

Medical oncologists work with cancer patients throughout the course of their treatments. These doctors provide the patient with treatment options and educational resources, and also work with the patient to manage pain and improve the quality of life.

Required Education Accredited medical school graduation
Other Requirements Residency and fellowship training program completion
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 14% for physicians and surgeons*
Median Salary (2016)** $246,525 annually

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics **PayScale.com

Job Options for Medical Oncologists

While the primary objective is to treat patients, certified medical oncologists might also participate in an array of clinical research activities related to cancer treatment and cancer epidemiology. Teaching opportunities associated with this field are also available.

Individuals seeking career opportunities in medical oncology may choose to seek public- or private-sector employment through an existing cancer center, medical center, hospital or other healthcare network. Established oncologists may also choose to open their own private practice.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for all physicians and surgeons are expected to increase by 14% between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than average. PayScale.com reports that oncologists earned a median salary of $246,525 as of October 2016.

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Degree Requirements for Medical Oncologists

Medical oncologists must graduate from an accredited medical school, complete a residency and participate in a fellowship training program related to their specialty. Physicians seeking a certification in medical oncology must be certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) and pass the Medical Oncology Certification Examination.

Medical School

Individuals interested in attending medical school will need to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and complete a series of prerequisite courses -such as chemistry, biology and physics - while working toward an undergraduate degree prior to applying for admission to a medical school program.

Medical schools typically integrate biological, clinical, behavioral and social sciences into a rigorous curriculum intended to be taught over a 4-year period. Students enrolled in medical school can expect to take courses in genetics, clinical studies, human systems and development, pediatrics, surgery, psychiatry and neurology. Students are also required to take the United States Medical Licensing Examinations (USMLE) in the final months of medical school.

Residency

Graduates from medical school must complete a residency program before entering into practice. The American Board of Internal Medicine requires 36 months of residency training that includes a minimum of 30 months of training in emergency medicine and internal medicine. Typical first-year, second-year and third-year rotations may include:

  • Pediatrics
  • Gynecology
  • Cardiology
  • Dermatology
  • Neurology

Residents are also responsible for completing direct patient care in an ambulatory setting while demonstrating moral, clinical and ethical competency.

Oncology Fellowship

According to the ABIM, physicians seeking certification in medical oncology must complete a fellowship program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. The Professional Corporation of Physicians of Quebec and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada are other approved sources of fellowship accreditation.

Fellowships typically last 1-3 years and provide research opportunities and clinical experience. Successfully completing fellowship and certification requirements permits a physician to practice within their subspecialty with direct supervision.

Certification Requirements

Upon completing education, training and licensure requirements, physicians must pass an ABIM certification examination to prove that they have completed the requirements set forth by the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Medical oncologists must also complete a subspecialty certification exam.

Specializing in the field of oncology prepares doctors to work with patients suffering from various types of cancer. These professionals may be involved with all stages of their patients' treatment and can also help their patients with pain management. Becoming and oncologist requires many years of classroom and hands-on training.

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