Although a doctoral degree in oncology does not exist, students interested in clinical research might opt for a doctoral program in cancer biology, while students interested in working with cancer patients from a medical standpoint might opt for medical school and a residency program in radiological oncology.
Any doctoral program requires a master's degree in biology or a closely related field. Master's programs are usually two years in length, while the doctorate program takes three to five years and requires a dissertation. Medical school requires a bachelor's degree, and is four years in length plus three years of residency. Either of these programs may also require professional experience or specific course prerequisites.
Doctor of Philosophy in Cancer Biology
Programs focus on training experimental clinical scientists in researching the causes and potential cures for various cancers. Clinical scientists work with licensed medical doctors in making treatments applicable for patient utilization. Programs foster analytical thinking and problem solving abilities while allowing for creative, forward-thinking research.
Students attend professional networking conferences, participate in student organizations, conduct independent research projects and attend informative lectures covering the following topics:
- Research methods
- Medical advances in oncology
- Genetics and cancer
- Current oncological practices
Residency Programs in Radiological Oncology
Residency programs are intended for doctors in training. Residents are graduates of an accredited medical school program who are interested in pursuing a specialization in radiation oncology. Programs stress active participation in the practice of radiological oncology in a hospital setting. While students do engage in clinical research, the focus of a residency program is patient care.
In lieu of structured courses, residents actively participate in rounds and a specified set of rotations as outlined by the college or university. Students perform extensive clinical research and attend informational conferences and clinical seminars. Some programs may require residents to lead a conference seminar. Typical rotation areas include:
- Medical oncology
- Oncological pathology
- Diagnostic imaging
- Radiological biology
Popular Career Options
Graduates of a doctoral program in cancer biology often gravitate towards positions in cancer laboratory research or academia. While a doctoral degree may not be essential to some research positions, individuals looking to teach at the college or university level will find it a valuable asset. Some popular careers include:
- Independent researcher
- Technical writer
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Due to the overall growth of the healthcare industry, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 7% increase in jobs for physicians and surgeons from 2018-2028. According to the BLS, the average annual salary of physicians and surgeons, including oncologists, was $203,880 in May of 2018.
Although a doctoral degree is the most advanced degree awarded in cancer biology, students can obtain other master's, doctoral or medical degrees. Advanced degrees often allow for a greater number of job opportunities and the potential for a higher base salary.
Aspiring doctor's wishing to specialize in oncology can pursue a Doctor of Philosophy in Cancer Biology or a residency program in radiological oncology after medical school. Both programs require extensive training in the field, and graduates may choose to work in research, academia or as practicing physicians and surgeons.