Oncology is a field of medicine that relates to the diagnoses and treatment of cancer. There are a few different options when it comes to a career in oncology and each requires different education. Medical doctors can choose to specialize in oncology and become oncologists, or radiation therapists work within a medical team treating patients with cancer.
Oncology is a specialty field of medicine concentrating on the diagnosis and treatment of health issues related to cancer. An oncologist is a physician with extensive specialized training in cancer related medicine; however, entry-level technician positions, as well as oncology nursing programs are available.
|Career Titles||Radiation Therapist||Oncologist|
|Education Requirements||Bachelor's degree||Medical Doctor (MD) degree|
|Other Requirements||None|| Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
Oncology fellowship program
U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)
|Projected Job Growth* (2014-2024)||14%||14% (all physicians and surgeons)|
| $187,200 or more for all physicians and surgeons
*Source: U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the overall employment outlook for individuals associated with oncology is promising. Positions in this field vary, and require different levels of education. While a Medical Doctor (MD) degree is required to become an oncologist, for example, a candidate can enter the field as a radiation therapist with a bachelor's degree. Employees in both positions work directly with patients.
Radiation therapists are members of a team that work with patients who have cancer. They keep records and operate machines required for treatment. Radiation therapists explain treatment options to patients and administer the necessary treatment while monitoring the patient closely.
The number of jobs available for radiation therapists will increase 14% from 2014-2024, reported the BLS. BLS also noted that, as of May 2015, radiation therapists made a median wage of $80,220 a year.
Oncologists specialize in one of three fields: surgical, medical, or radiation oncology. While oncologists in all three areas often work in a team, each plays a different role in the treatment of patients. Surgical oncologists remove tumors that are found to be cancerous. Medical oncologists administer chemotherapy, and radiation oncologists collaborate with radiologists to administer radiation therapy.
Although oncologists represent only a small portion of the physician population, the BLS stated that physicians in all areas would increase 14% between 2014 and 2024. The BLS reported that oncologists earned a median yearly salary of $187,200 or more as of 2015.
Oncology Education Requirements
Professional involvement in the field of oncology will require some education and training for most positions. Lower-level employment, such as radiation therapy assistants, typically requires vocational training offered by community colleges or professional schools. Individuals seeking mid-range positions, such as radiation therapist, might need a bachelor's degree in radiation technology. Oncology nurses typically require a master's degree in oncology nursing or oncology nurse practitioner, while oncology physicians (oncologists) are required to complete a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) and a fellowship in oncology.
Doctor of Medicine
M.D. candidates will be expected to possess a bachelor's degree. While no major is specified, bachelor's programs must fulfill certain science and mathematics requirements. The admissions process also includes a strenuous admissions test known as the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). To receive a spot in medical school, students will need to have excellent grades and a high MCAT score.
Candidates generally complete medical school in three years. Courses necessary to receive a medical degree include anatomy, behavioral sciences and histology. Students will also be exposed to pharmacology and diagnosis techniques. Many classes are conducted in laboratories and clinical facilities with real cadavers and specimens.
In addition to an M.D., oncologists must complete additional training through an oncology fellowship program. In a fellowship, doctors are trained in the specific treatment procedures and protocols of a variety of cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma. Prospective oncologists complete clinical practice through clinical rotations dealing with actual patients.
Licensing and Certification Information
Several licensing and certification requirements are available in the oncology field. For example, oncology nurses can take certification exams for designations such as Oncology Certified Nurse, Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner or Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Specialist.
To become licensed as an oncologist, M.D. holders must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). They must also become board certified after completing residency requirements through the American Board of Medical Specialists. Oncologists will also need to maintain specialization certification, which include fees and periodic renewal examinations.
To work as an oncologist, a doctor must be licensed and then pursue further training, usually in the form of an oncology fellowship. Oncologists can specialize in different types of cancer treatments. Lower level assistants in the field of oncology typically require vocational training or an undergraduate degree, while radiation therapists require a bachelor's degree, and also work directly with patients.