Oncologist - How to Become an Oncologist

Oncologist

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Oncologist Job Description

 

Oncologists are physicians who have specifically tailored their career to diagnose and treat patients suffering from varying types of cancer. Typically, they're tasked with leading a team of medical professionals and coordinating the proper treatments to provide comprehensive care for individual patients.

Physicians may specialize in three different areas: medical oncology, surgical oncology, or radiation oncology. Medical oncologists typically use imaging technologies, such as MRIs and CT scans, as well as biopsies, to properly diagnose patients and determine a course of treatment. Surgical oncologists are tasked primarily with removing tumors and radiation oncologists treat the patient with radiation therapy.

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Responsibilities

 

Responsibilities may vary depending on specialty, but common duties include:

  • Collecting medical histories of patients.

  • Performing physical evaluations and administrative tasks, like maintaining medical records.

  • Coordinating with other medical professionals to offer the best care possible for the patient.

  • Performing diagnostic procedures using MRIs, x-rays, and biopsies to determine the existence and extent of cancerous tumors.

  • Creating a treatment plan, typically comprised of radiation, chemotherapy, and/or surgery to combat cancers.

  • Performing bone marrow transplants.

  • Providing supportive care to patients, including prescribing drugs to fight pain, inflammation, nausea, and fatigue.

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Skills

 

Communication

Must effectively communicate with your co-workers to ensure the best care and the proper procedures. Must be able to communicate in high-stress environments.

Active Listening

Offering your full attention to an individual person or group in order to fully understand problems and their nature.

Critical Thinking

Must use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.

Judgment and Decision Making

Needs to be able to act autonomously and make difficult decisions that would benefit the patient or make corrections. Must consider all benefits and repercussions of potential actions and choose the appropriate one. 

Complex Problem Solving

Must be able to identify complex problems and develop and evaluate corrective options and implement solutions. 

Stress Management

Must be able to endure intense situations and handle pressure that comes with extreme situations you may encounter.

Trustworthiness

Must be trustworthy because you have people's lives in your hands and what you do could help or hurt them. They are entrusted with a great responsibility and must live up to it. 

Perceptiveness

Gauging how people react and read their body language to decipher their feelings and predict their actions. They must be able to determine if people could be a risk to themselves or others and to distinguish truths from lies.

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Working Conditions

 

Most oncologists are employed in hospitals, clinics, and private practices and work long hours. They're typically on call 24/7, which can be physically and emotionally draining. Those employed by health networks enjoy more stable hours than those working in private practices.

 


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How to Become an Oncologist:

 

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

 

Aspiring family physicians must first complete a bachelor's degree program in order to continue on to medical school. Traditionally, premed programs offered by nearly all major universities, but are not necessarily required to enter medical school. Programs that emphasize science, such as biology, physics, or physiology, may also be sufficient as medical school qualifications. However, those that are certain they want to enter this, or any other, medical profession should pursue a premed program.

 

The preparation timeline below offers an example premed curriculum: 

 

Grade Level

Example Courses

Freshman Year

 

  • Health Care Systems

  • Biology I & Lab

  • Biology II & Lab

  • Calculus I

  • Chemistry I & Lab

  • Chemistry II & Lab

  • English I

  • Psychology 

  • Humanities Requirements

  • Electives

Sophomore Year

  • Public Health

  • Anatomy & Physiology I & Lab

  • Anatomy & Physiology II & Lab

  • Statistics

  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab

  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab

  • Basic Skills for Healthcare

  • Nutrition

  • Humanities Requirements

  • Electives

Junior Year

 

  • Healthcare Communication

  • Healthcare Professional Writing

  • Genetics & Microbiology I & Lab

  • Physics I & Lab

  • Physics II & Lab

  • Problems in Healthcare

  • Healthcare Research

  • Biochemistry I & Lab

  • Humanities Requirements

  • Electives

Senior Year

  • Health in the US

  • Health Education and Planning

  • Healthcare Management

  • Health Policy

  • Capstone

  • Remaining Requirements

  • Remaining Electives

 

2. Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

 

To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills.

 

The MCAT is divided into four sections:

 

Section/Category

 Section Breakdown

Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

  • 59 multiple-choice questions

  • 95 minutes

  • Tests biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry

Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

  • 59 multiple-choice questions

  • 95 minutes

  • Tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics

Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior

  • 59 multiple-choice questions

  • 95 minutes

  • Tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology

Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills

  • 53 multiple-choice questions

  • 90 minutes

  • Tests reading comprehension, humanities, and social sciences

 

You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the AAMC website here.

 

3. Earn a Medical Degree (4 Years)

 

A list of accredited medical education programs is available through the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). For more information and advice on successfully getting into medical school, you can check with the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Medical school consists of four years of studying the basics in science and participating in clinical “rotations.” These are hands-on clinical experiences in real health care settings. In most med schools, the first two years are taken up with classroom studies before students are assigned to do rotations. The current trend, however, finds a number of medical schools exposing students to early clinical experiences that continue throughout the four-year program.

Most medical schools base their curriculum on a system-based approach that focuses on one physiological system at a time, such as the respiratory system or the nervous system. Still others may use a case-based curriculum that teaches about the human body’s normal functioning and disease processes by assigning students to following individual patient cases from start to finish. Still other med schools use a combination of these approaches to educate their students.

The most common lines of coursework among medical schools consist of the following subjects:

  • Anatomy

  • Biochemistry

  • Ethics

  • Pharmacology

  • Physiology

  • Psychology

During the last two years of schooling, students are required to obtain hands-on experience at hospitals and clinics, learning to diagnose and treat patients while working under the supervision of licensed physicians.

Upon completion of four years of med school, a student is awarded a medical degree, or M.D. Another popular trend is for schools to offer combination degree programs, such as MD/MPH, MD/PHD or MD/JD. The AAMC’s website on Medical School Admission Requirements offers more information on this option.

 

The preparation timeline below provides an example medical school curriculum:

 

Year

Example Courses

Year 1

 

  • Cells and Tissues

  • Molecular Foundations of Medicine

  • Applied Biochemistry 

  • Genetics

  • Disease Mechanisms & Development

  • Cardiac Life Support

  • The Nervous System

  • Immunology

  • Gross Anatomy of Head & Neck

  • Microbiology

  • Pulmonary System

  • Cardiovascular System

  • Microbiology

Year 2

  • Renal/Genitourinary System

  • Gastrointestinal System

  • Skin/Endocrine Systems

  • Reproduction & Women's Health

  • Microbiology

  • Behavior & the Brain

  • Hematology

  • Systemic Diseases

  • Microbiology

  • Clinical Clerkship

Year 3, 4, 5

 

  • Internal Medicine

  • Pediatrics

  • Surgery

  • Obstetrics & Gynecology

  • Family Medicine

  • Psychiatry

  • Neurology

  • Critical Care

  • Ambulatory Med

  • Research, Reflections and Advances in Patient Care

 

4. Take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)

 

In order to practice medicine, aspiring geriatricians must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This exam is sponsored by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME).

The exam consists of three steps:

Step & Purpose

Format & Other Info

Step 1

Assesses the ability to apply scientific concepts, basic to practicing medicine, emphasizing mechanisms underlying health, disease, and therapy.

  • 310 multiple-choice questions

  • Divided into 7 60-minute blocks

  • Administered via computer

  • One day session

Step 2

Divided into 2 sub-steps: clinical knowledge (CK) & clinical skills (CS).

 The clinical knowledge section assesses the ability to apply medical knowledge, skills, and clinical science to patient care.

The clinical skills section assesses the ability to gather information from patients, perform physical exams, and communicate findings with colleagues.

  • Clinical Knowledge

    • 350 multiple-choice questions

    • Divided into 8 60-minute blocks

    • One day session

  • Clinical Skills

    • 12 patient cases

    • 15 minutes per patient case 

    • 10 minutes to record each patient note (PN)

    • Administered at 6 test centers in the US: Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, & Philadelphia.

    • One day session

Step 3

Divided into 2 sub-steps: Foundations of Independent Practice(FIP) & Advanced Clinical Medicine (ACM)

 Foundations of Independent Practice assesses the knowledge and principles essential for effective health care.

Advanced Clinical Medicine assesses the ability to apply knowledge of health and disease to the context of patient management and an evolving disease.

  • Foundations of Independent Practice

    • 260 multiple-choice questions

    • Divided into 6 60-minute blocks, each w/ 44 questions

    • One day session

  • Advanced Clinical Medicine (ACM)

    • 200 multiple-choice questions

    • Divided into 6 45-minute blocks, each with 33 questions

    • 13 computer-based case simulations, each allotted 10 or 20 minutes

    • One day session

 

5. Complete an Internship (1 Year)

 

Neurologists are required to complete a 1 year basic training year prior to beginning their residency program. These are designed to train graduates in both surgical and internal medicine rotations while preparing them for entry into their chosen specialty.

Transitional programs can be found on the FREIDA online database.

 

6. Complete a Residency Program (3 - 4 Years)

 

After completing med school, you aren’t finished yet. Now it’s time to choose your specialty and complete your residency. These residency programs are offered in conjunction with intensive clinical training experiences. Depending on the specialty, residency can last from three to eight years.

The American Medical Association’s online FREIDA service is an interactive database of over 9,400 graduate medical education programs. These programs are all accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. There is also information on over 200 combined specialty programs.

 

7. Earn the Required Certification

 

Oncologists can become certified by passing the examination offered by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM). To be eligible, candidates must first have completed their graduate education fellowship training, demonstrate clinical competence, and hold a valid, unrestricted medical license.

Click here to learn more about the medical oncology certification and its requirements

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Salary Outlook

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