Translational Oncology Education Requirements and Career Options

Sep 25, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed for a career in translational oncology. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about job duties, certification and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Those interested in translational oncology can expect to complete their postgraduate education between 6-12 years. Several educational routes are available including a Ph.D, an M.D. or a Ph.D/M.D. Graduates can work in the field as basic, applied or clinical oncology researchers.

Essential Information

Translational oncology is a highly collaborative area of cancer research that involves teams of basic researchers, applied researchers, clinical researchers and oncologists working in concert to design and implement cancer treatments. 'Translational,' in this case, refers to translating research into treatment. The education path to working in translational oncology requires a doctoral degree, yet the focus of the degree may vary between a scientific field, medical field or a combination of both. The additional requirements, job outlook and salary vary based on the professional's role on the translational oncology team.

Required Education Doctoral degree
Additional Requirements Medical license, American Board of Internal Medicine certification and completion of a fellowship in an oncology specialization may be required for some members of the team
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 8% for medical scientists; 7% for physicians and surgeons
Average Salary (2018)* $96,420 for medical scientists; $203,880 for physicians and surgeons

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Education Requirements

Medical research careers require a doctoral degree; the type and focus of the degree depends on which link in the chain of collaboration is the desired career path. Basic and applied research careers in oncology both require a Ph.D., but with a different focus or specialty. To be a clinical researcher or oncologist requires an M.D. or M.D./Ph.D. and completion of a residency program, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ph.D. programs in biology or chemistry generally take around six years to complete. M.D. programs take four years to complete, with a residency program taking an additional 3-8 years. Joint M.D./Ph.D. programs are available and can take anywhere from 6-8 years. A residency is still required for M.D./Ph.D. graduates who wish to practice medicine.

Basic Oncology Research Education Requirements

Basic researchers seek to uncover information about a particular thing or process; in oncology, this could be the steps of a cell's metabolic pathway or the structure and composition of a protein on the outside of a cancer cell. A Ph.D. in an area of biology such as cell biology, immunology or genetics would be applicable to a career in basic research.

Applied Oncology Research Education Requirements

Applied researchers take information gained from basic research and use it to develop a specific drug or treatment. Pharmaceutical science, molecular biology and chemistry are examples of fields in which a Ph.D. would work well for applied oncology research.

Clinical Oncology Research and Oncologist Education Requirements

An M.D. is required for researchers who interact with patients in a medical capacity, such as prescribing and/or administering drugs and other treatments. Doctors can obtain certification from the American Board of Internal Medicine by completing an approved internal medicine residency program with a subspecialty in medical oncology. They can then obtain further specialization through completing a fellowship in a specific area, such as renal oncology, neurologic oncology or hematologic oncology.

Career Options

Medical schools, independent medical centers and research universities that have partnerships with medical centers are developing translational oncology research programs. They employ basic and applied researchers and oncologists who are willing to collaborate closely with one another to streamline the creation of new cancer treatments. Basic and applied researchers conduct laboratory investigations, while clinical researchers and physicians spend time working with patients. Most researchers who work at universities and medical schools have an obligation to teach in addition to doing research.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't have employment and salary data specifically for those working in translational oncology. However, the BLS expected that the broader category of medical scientists was expected to see growth of 8% in employment, while surgeons and physicians could expect employment to grow by 7% during the 2018-2028 decade. In its 2018 salary report, the BLS noted that the average salary for medical scientists was $96,420, and surgeons and physicians earned $203,880 in average annual income.

Opportunities to work in translational oncology typically exist at medical schools, medical centers and universities, where teams of oncologists and researchers collaborate to develop treatments for cancer. Some researchers may have a Ph.D. in biology or a related field. Other researchers may have a medical degree. Oncologists must complete an accredited medical school program and an oncology residency. This field is expected to see growth over the next ten years.

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