Sometimes the scariest words uttered in a doctor’s office are, “you need to see an oncologist.” The reason for the fear is the fact that an oncologist is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of cancer. Similar to other physicians, oncologists have specialties within the medical field. An oncologist may specialize in surgery, pediatrics, gynecology, radiation or hematology. Becoming an oncologist is not an easy task. Oncology candidates undergo years of additional education past the level of other physician careers.
After receiving a referral from their primary care physician, patients meet with an oncologist. The oncologist is responsible for ordering tests and analyzing patient data to make a diagnosis. If the diagnosis is cancer, the oncologist designs a care plan for the patient. The plan in some cases involves radiation treatment , chemotherapy or both. If radiation therapy is involved, then the patient may be sent to an oncologist who specializes in radiation. Working with the patient’s primary doctor, the oncologist works to make the patient cancer-free. If they are successful, they may continue to see the patient for follow-up visits.
Treating cancer patients is not the only job for an oncologist, although it is the main concern. Some oncologists specialize in cancer research. They work to find the best cancer treatments and medications to treat the illness. One component of research lies in the clinical lab studies where real cancer patients are used to test new medical advances. Oncologists often refer patients to these studies in order to help defray treatment costs or in cases where the test subject can truly benefit from the treatment. The doctors running the clinical tests are oncologists as well.
Where They Work
Oncologists may have their own practices or belong to a medical group or consortium. Oncologists specializing in surgery often work directly for hospitals. You can often find oncologists in research labs or pharmaceutical companies testing out the latest cancer drug. They may also be in medical schools and on college campuses and at teaching hospitals, continuing their research as well as training the next generation of oncologists.
After graduating from a four-year college program, an oncologist candidate attends medical school. Upon graduation, they enter a residency program. A resident is a doctor-in-training. They work in hospitals and labs specializing in the field that will eventually become their chosen oncology specialty. Once they complete the residency program, which can take between two or three years, they start oncology training. Oncology fellowships take an additional two to three years. At the end of the fellowship program, candidates must take a written and oral exam in order to be a licensed board-certified oncologist.
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