How to Become a Pediatric Oncologist
Pediatric oncologists are doctors who specialize in treating cancer in young patients. They are typically trained to treat children with an array of oncologic and hematologic issues, such as hemophilia, leukemia, bone tumors, and more. It may take aspiring doctors several years beyond earning a medical degree to become a pediatric oncologist. Pediatric oncologist requirements generally consist of:
- Postsecondary education
- A residency program
Below, we discuss the steps to becoming a pediatric oncologist in more detail.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Pediatric oncologist schooling must begin with a bachelor's degree. Although aspiring doctors can earn a bachelor's degree in any field, it is common for these students to choose a pre-med program and/or choose a major in a science- or health-related field.
At the undergraduate level it is important that those wishing to become doctors take courses in biology, math, English, chemistry, and other sciences. It is also beneficial at this level to begin gaining clinical experience through volunteering or participating in internships.
Step 2: Earn a Medical Degree
Pediatric oncologist education continues with a medical degree. While applying for medical school, students need to consider what kind of doctor they wish to become. For example, becoming a holistic doctor is different than becoming a naturopathic doctor.
At this level students can either pursue a Medical Doctor (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. These programs generally take 4 years to complete and allow students to explore a range of medical subfields through clinical rotations.
Step 3: Complete a Pediatric Oncology Residency
After medical school, aspiring physicians must complete a residency program in their desired area of expertise. In the case of pediatric oncology, students may first be exposed to the field during clinical rotations in medical school and then again as a subspecialty in a pediatrics residency program. Those wishing to further specialize in the field and become a pediatric oncologist must generally complete a pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship program after their 3-year pediatric residency.
Pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship programs usually take 3 years to complete and provide students with clinical and laboratory research experience. During the program students work with pediatric patients at different stages of care, including relapses and end of life.
Step 4: Obtain a Medical License
In order to be a practicing physician, doctors must pass a national licensure exam and meet their state's licensing requirements. For the national licensing exams, MD's need to pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), while DO's must pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA). State requirements vary, but typically include graduating from an accredited medical school and finishing a residency program.
Step 5: Become Certified
Although it is not usually required, some pediatric oncologists may choose to become board certified from the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP). The ABP offers a Certification in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology that requires candidates to have completed a 3-year fellowship program in the field. Students must meet criteria, obtain a Verification of Competence Form, and pass a subspecialty certifying exam to earn the certification.
Pediatric Oncologist Career Overview
Pediatric oncologists commonly work full-time and may keep irregular hours to meet the needs of their patients. Physicians often need to be on-call and may need to travel between medical facilities.
As of July 2019, PayScale.com reported that a 'physician/doctor oncologist' made a median salary of $255,861. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that for 2018, the average salary of general pediatricians was $183,240. The BLS also reported that the job outlook for all physicians and surgeons was 13% from 2016 to 2026.