What Should I Major in to Be an Oncologist?

For oncologists, academic success as an undergraduate is more important than their majors.
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Students aspiring to medical careers as oncologists, or specialists in cancer treatments, must go through years of schooling. After obtaining their undergraduate degrees, prospective oncologists must attend medical school and then complete a medical residency of two to five years in their specialty. An undergraduate degree in biology or another science is not required, however, for admission into medical school. Many successful oncologists have entered medical school with diverse undergraduate majors.

Myths about Pre-health Majors

    Due to tremendous competition, students strive for any possible advantage to make themselves stronger applicants. Many pre-medical students commonly believe a myth that certain majors increase the odds of becoming an oncologist. This is untrue. According to Libby Morsheimer, a pre-health adviser from the State University of New York at Buffalo, medical schools admit future oncologists from varied academic backgrounds. An oncology candidate can major in business, finance, art or any of the humanities. Students do not have to major in the natural sciences, and students who have degrees in natural sciences have no advantage. Medical schools look for academic success and well-rounded students. Oncologists who majored in biology outnumber other majors six to one, but this is not because medical schools discriminate. Rather, individuals who seek careers in the medical profession tend to enjoy scientific classes and prefer that course of study. Remember, students who major in music, theater and journalism become oncologists, too.

Majors Relating to Oncology

    Though no major poses an advantage over another, some majors are more closely related to the field of oncology. Cancer is a biomedical condition of the body, so disciplines in biology and chemistry correlate to the profession. Study concentrations that incorporate similar curriculum include physiology, genetics, biochemistry and cell biology. These courses and majors expose students to the basic science used by oncologists to treat patients. They also help the student know what to expect in future studies of oncology.

Supplemental Preparation

    To supplement a student's preparation to become an oncologist, students should engage in extracurricular activities pertaining to the field. Medical schools like to know that a student has familiarity with the medical workplace. Regardless of the student's major, a student interested in oncology should work in a hospital or volunteer at a local clinic. Medical internships with shadowing opportunities provide the student with real-world experience, and universities offer undergraduate research opportunities that introduce the student to the latest medical findings. Undergraduates also should consider joining campus organizations for students interested in medical careers.

Medical School Admission Requirements

    Students who wish to become oncologists must first gain admittance into a medical school. Admission to an accredited university proves challenging. Schools require the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and at least a bachelor's degree. Schools also require a list of courses, including two years of chemistry and one year of biology, physics and English. Students who wish to attend medical school must work these courses into their general education curriculum or select these courses as electives. As long as the major or area of study fulfills these basic requirements, a student can enter a medical program and work toward an oncology career.

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