Oncologists are medical doctors who work with cancer patients. The education path starts with four years in an undergraduate degree program and another four years in an accredited medical school. After completing med school, students will need to complete a residency in a clinical setting. Residency training programs often take 3-8 years and allow students to start focusing on an area of specialization.
Many oncology fellowship programs require applicants to have completed their residency in internal medicine. After completing their residency program, graduates are eligible to take the national certification exam to become licensed. A license is required to enroll in a fellowship program.
After completing the education process above, licensed doctors can apply to a medical oncology fellowship program. This 3-year program includes hands-on training that prepares them to diagnose, prevent and treat cancers. In total, the training to become an oncologist lasts around 12 years. Students could also participate in research programs in clinical and laboratory settings. Although not always required, oncologists may want to consider earning medical oncology board certification from the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM).
Oncology Fellowship Training Program Overview
Through a fellowship program, students may become competent in preventing, detecting, evaluating and treating cancers. In-patient and out-patient rotations might include working with individuals diagnosed with blood diseases such as AIDS or leukemia or with a variety of cancers including breast, gastrointestinal, melanoma and gynecologic conditions. Students might also partake in research both in a clinical and laboratory setting.
Upon program completion, students are typically able to complete procedures and administer treatments, such as bone marrow aspirations, biopsies and chemotherapy. Students may study biostatistics, molecular and cellular biology of cancer, epidemiology and clinical trial design. Students might also be required to complete a course on medical ethics. Generally, students participate in a number of lectures and conferences related to oncology on topics such as:
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Breast cancer
- Treatment of benign conditions
- Clinical research methods
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Salary.com reported that as of September 2019, the median annual expected salary for a hematology/oncology physician is $301,366. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that employment for all physicians and surgeons is expected to grow by 7% in the 2018-2028 decade (www.bls.gov).
Although not required, students might consider becoming certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) in medical oncology (www.abim.org). In addition to passing a specialty examination on the topic of oncology, students also need to meet training, licensure and education requirements as set by the ABIM.
Clinical oncology training can take about 12 years for a student to complete. Both theoretical and hands-on courses, in addition to research and clinical exposure, prepare graduates for licensure and specialized medical practice.