Oncologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing, treating, and studying all forms of cancer and cancerous tumors. Many practicing oncologists divide their time between research and study and direct patient care. In addition to helping patients with treatable forms of cancer, they are also called upon to care for terminally ill cancer patients by providing treatments and medications to ease pain during the disease’s final stages.
What does an Oncologist do?
Oncologists help patients during all stages of cancer diagnosis and treatment. They commonly perform biopsies and other tests to determine whether or not a mass is cancerous. When cancer is detected, they determine the best course of treatment. In some cases, the tumor can be removed while in other situations it may be treated using radiation or chemotherapy. Some oncologists may also help patients enroll in clinical studies to test emerging cancer treatments. If the cancer goes into remission following successful treatment, patients still see oncologists regularly to be sure it doesn’t return.
Becoming an Oncologist
Becoming a board-certified oncologist requires more than a decade of post-secondary education that takes place in classrooms and hospitals. After high school, students must first complete four years of study at an accredited college or university. While majoring in pre-medical studies is not mandatory, it is helpful if students choose to major in fields like biology or chemistry as they will provide a strong scientific background to students entering medical school. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree, students must enroll in medical school where they will study for an additional four years before graduating with a doctor of medicine degree.
Once a student completes medical school, he or she can begin working toward a career as a cancer specialist. The first step is to enroll in a pediatrician, internist, or surgical residency. These residencies vary in length, and students should choose the one that most closely relates to the area of oncology they wish to specialize in. Upon successful completion of a residency, doctors may then participate in an oncology fellowship. In addition to studying general oncology, students may choose to study one more more sub-specialties such as pediatric oncology, gynecological oncology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, or medical oncology. Fellowships typically take two to three years to complete. Becoming board-certified as an oncologist requires students to pass both written and oral exams. To maintain certification, practicing physicians need to regularly participate in continuing education programs and pass additional exams throughout their career.