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Oncologist: Employment Information & Requirements

Oncologists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, including palliative care. Learn about the substantial education and training requirements for oncologists, and find career information for physicians and surgeons in general.

Career Definition of an Oncologist

Oncologists are physicians and surgeons who evaluate and treat patients suffering from cancer. As key members of a medical team, they work in conjunction with other doctors, nurses, lab technicians and orderlies who treat patients. Their professional responsibilities include talking with patients about symptoms and examining them for signs of disease. Often coordinating with other physicians, oncologists also request and analyze test results, discuss treatment options and monitor patient progress during therapy.

Education 4-year medical school program plus 3-8 years of residency and internship
Job Skills Good communication and leadership ability, compassion, physical stamina
Median Salary (2019)* $250,581
Career Outlook (2016-2026)** 13% increase (for all physicians and surgeons)

Source: *PayScale.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements

Completion of a bachelor's degree program, particularly one that includes coursework in the biological and chemical sciences, is the first step in becoming an oncologist. Admission to an accredited medical school is next, a competitive and selective process that typically requires a high score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). These programs take four years to complete and include classroom studies, lab work and supervised clinical or hospital rotations. Additional requirements include 3-8 years of internships and residencies; oncologists must also pass a state licensing exam before they can practice medicine.

Required Skills

In general, physicians and surgeons must be detail-oriented, manually dexterous individuals with a great deal of physical stamina. Good communication skills, patience and a sense of compassion are key when dealing with patients. Physicians and surgeons, including oncologists, should also have a facility for leadership and the ability to solve problems.

Employment and Salary Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment opportunities for physicians and surgeons are expected to grow by a faster-than-average rate of 13% nationwide between 2016 and 2026. Employment was expected to grow more quickly in specialty fields, as well as in rural and lower-income regions. According to the PayScale.com, the median yearly salary for oncologists was $250,581 as of March 2019.

Alternate Career Options

Other potential careers in this field include:

Physician Assistants

Physician assistants, typically referred to as PAs, work under the direction of licensed doctors and surgeons to diagnose and treat illness and injuries in a variety of patients. Completion of a master's degree program that has been approved by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc., is required to enter the field, as well as a passing score on a certification exam and a state license. As reported by the BLS, job opportunities for physician assistants are expected to increase by 37% nationwide from 2016-2026, or much faster than average in comparison to all other occupations. PAs who were employed in May 2017 earned median annual wages of $104,860 (www.bls.gov).

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) are employed by doctor's offices, hospitals, schools and other healthcare facilities, where they assist with patient care, documentation and education. Education and training requirements include an associate degree, diploma or bachelor's degree in nursing from an approved program, as well as a state license. According to the BLS, RNs can expect a 15%, or much faster than average, growth in jobs nationwide from 2016-2026. As of May 2017, the median yearly salary for a registered nurse was $70,000 (www.bls.gov).


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