Become a Pediatric Hematology Oncology Doctor

Mar 05, 2020

Learn how to become a pediatric hematology/oncology doctor. Research the education, licensure information and experience required for starting a career in pediatric hematology/oncology.

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Pediatric Hematology and Oncology

So, you think you might like to become a pediatric hematology and oncology doctor? Pediatric hematology/oncology doctors care for children aged 18 and younger suffering from blood diseases and related disorders, such as hemophilia, cancer, von Willebrand disease and hemolytic anemia. Becoming a pediatric hematologist/oncologist requires graduating from medical school, completing a 3-year pediatric residency and completing a 3-year fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology.

In this field of medicine, you may focus on hematological disorders, pathology or oncology, and you could choose to teach, research or treat patients. As a hematology/oncology doctor, you could work in a hospital or clinic, or you might go into practice on your own. In general, you can expect to work long hours, and you're likely to be on call sometimes. However, if you're part of a group practice, you may get more free time.

Career Requirements

So, what are the career requirements? Starting with the right education is important!

Degree Level Doctoral degree
Degree Field Medicine
Experience Minimum of three years each of a pediatric residency and pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship is required for this field
Licensure and Certification All states require doctors to be licensed; voluntary certification in general pediatrics and pediatric hematology/oncology is available from the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology
Key Skills Empathy and compassion for handling children and their families, patience, excellent communication, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, understanding of clinical trial methodology
Salary (2018) $200,890 (median annual salary for all physicians and surgeons)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Oregon Health and Science University Doernbecher Children's Hospital.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Although some colleges and universities offer a pre-medicine track of study to undergraduate students, there is no single major required for admission to medical school. However, medical schools recommend that aspiring doctors take courses in physics, mathematics, biology and chemistry in addition to courses in the liberal arts.

While completing an undergraduate degree program, aspiring doctors must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The MCAT is a national, standardized test that is required to apply to medical school. The test consists of multiple-choice questions in three areas: verbal reasoning, the biological sciences and the physical sciences. Most students take the exam in their senior year of study in an undergraduate degree program.

Success Tips:

  • Prepare for the MCAT. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) offers practice tests containing questions used on prior exams. Because the questions on these practice exams were written by the people who produce the questions on the actual exam, students can become familiar with the format of the MCAT questions by taking them.
  • Volunteer at a hospital or clinic. Admission to medical school is extremely competitive. Medical schools may like to see that applicants have experience working in a healthcare setting. Volunteering gives students experience and can help demonstrate initiative and leadership abilities to medical school admissions committees.

Step 2: Complete Medical School

Standard medical school programs last about four years. The first two years in these programs are spent in classrooms or laboratories investigating subjects like anatomy and physiology, neuroscience, hematology, pharmacology, psychology, biochemistry and medical ethics. Students also learn how to take patient medical histories and conduct patient examinations during these years.

In the last two years of study, medical students work in a healthcare setting under the supervision of licensed, experienced doctors. During these years, students rotate through various specialties, including pediatrics, general surgery, family practice and internal medicine.

Some medical schools offer programs that combine undergraduate and medical degree programs. These programs typically require 6-7 years of study

Success Tips:

  • Engage in pediatric research while in medical school. Having research experience shows a passion for the field. This experience may give students a competitive edge when applying for a pediatric residency.
  • Register with the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS). The NRMP matches applicants with residency programs and the ERAS sends residency applications and other documentation from applicants to the directors of residency programs. Most residency programs only accept applications through the ERAS. Registering allows students to complete the application process once and send applications to multiple schools. This not only makes it easier to apply to residency programs, but may make it easier to be matched with a residency in pediatric hematology/oncology.

Step 3: Internship and Residency

Aspiring pediatric hematology/oncology doctors must complete a 3-year pediatric residency. During the first year of this type of residency, residents rotate through pediatric specialties such as general pediatrics, pediatric surgery, the well-baby nursery and neonatal intensive care.

Residents begin assuming more patient care responsibilities during their second year by rotating through pediatric specialties such as adolescent medicine, pediatric hematology/oncology and the pediatric intensive care unit. During the third and final year of these residencies, residents take a supervisory role in the emergency department, neonatal intensive care unit or inpatient pediatric unit.

Step 4: Obtain Medical License

By law, doctors must be licensed by the state in which they practice. Although each state establishes its own licensure requirements, generally all require that doctors have graduated from an accredited medical school, successfully completed a specialized residency and have passed the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

Success Tips:

  • Become certified in pediatrics. Although certification in pediatrics is not required to obtain a fellowship in the field, it may offer a competitive edge when applying to pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship programs. To become certified, an individual must be a licensed physician who graduated from an accredited medical school and has completed at least three years of training in pediatrics. Certification is awarded after passing an exam.
  • Keep learning. Continuing education ensures that doctors stay abreast of the latest news, technology and medical issues. Additionally, every state requires doctors to fulfill continuing education requirements for medical license renewal.

Step 5: Complete a Fellowship

Fellowship programs allow fellows to develop advanced research and clinical skills. Most pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship programs last three years and are held at an academic medical center or major children's hospital. Fellows gain experience diagnosing and managing treatment plans for children with hematological disorders or cancer. A fellow spends the first year of his or her fellowship involved in direct patient-care tasks and activities. In subsequent years, he or she focuses more on research. After completing three years of fellowship training, fellows are eligible to become certified.

After completing fellowship training, pediatric hematology/oncology doctors may pursue additional laboratory experience. This additional experience, which can focus on researching pediatric hematology/oncology or engaging in clinical investigations, can help doctors gain a better understanding of the diseases they will likely manage so that they can help develop more effective treatments.

Step 6: Earn and Maintain Certification

Certification in pediatric hematology/oncology is issued by the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP). Eligibility for certification requires having completed a 3-year fellowship, having a current, unrestricted medical license and having conducted scholarly research or similar activities during a fellowship. Doctors must pass a test to become certified.

After earning certification, doctors must maintain it by taking a certification test every ten years. They must also fulfill continuing education requirements every five years.

Earning a bachelor's degree, completing medical school, completing internships and residencies, getting licensed, completing a fellowship, and then getting certified are the steps to follow to make the most of a career as a pediatric hematology and oncology doctor.

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