Cancer was the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2012. Although improved medical technology is resulting in higher survival rates for patients, the rate of diagnosis of most major cancers has continued to increase in the 21st century. An oncologist specializes in diagnosing and treating malignant growths, and given the increasing demand for cancer treatment services, oncology is expected to be one of the fastest-growing medical specialties over the next few decades. Oncology has also become a female-friendly medical specialty, with a growing number of female oncologists in prestigious positions, and as of 2013, a female president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Oncologists are highly educated medical professionals. They enjoy the lifetime benefits of a bachelor's degree and four years of medical school. Modern medical schools accept candidates from a variety of academic backgrounds, but most are biology, chemistry or biochemistry majors. Medical school programs typically include two years of coursework such as anatomy, physiology and pharmacology, and two years working with experienced physicians in clinics and hospitals. Medical school graduates interested in oncology undertake a two- to three-year fellowship after medical school to learn the ropes.
Social Respect and Emotional Satisfaction
Physicians are generally highly-respected, and working as a specialist such as an oncologist is considered especially prestigious. Medicine is a helping profession and doctors also enjoy the emotional satisfaction of helping people recover from injuries and diseases. Modern medicine has provided oncologists with a host of effective new therapies for cancers, meaning they can offer more patients the hope of recovery and a long life, and increase their own professional and personal satisfaction.
All medical specialties offer their own intellectual challenges, but the ever-evolving complexity of cancer makes oncology one of the most challenging areas of medicine. Modern oncology is also highly specialized, and many oncologists choose to put in the years of study and clinical experience required to become American Board of Internal Medicine Board certified in one or more medical oncology subspecialties.
High Pay and Good Benefits
Oncologists also earn well above-average pay, with the 2013 Medscape Oncologist Compensation Report showing that oncologists earned an average compensation of $278,000 in 2012. According to their survey data, men earned an average $293,000 and women earned $240,000. Around 14 percent of full-time oncologists earned less than $100,000, and 10 percent garnered more than $500,000 in 2012. Most oncologists also receive generous employee benefits through their employer or practice, including paid time off, health insurance and retirement plan contributions.
2016 Salary Information for Physicians and Surgeons
Physicians and surgeons earned a median annual salary of $204,950 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicians and surgeons earned a 25th percentile salary of $131,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $261,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 713,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physicians and surgeons.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: OOH -- Physicians and Surgeons
- MD Anderson Cancer Center: Hematology/Oncology Fellowship
- PBS Newshour: What's Killing Americans?
- Medscape Oncologist Compensation Report: 2013
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Physicians and Surgeons
- Career Trend: Physicians and Surgeons
Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.