Medical school and a good residency program can qualify you to be an oncologist, and a medical license allows you to practice. Certain skills, however, are needed to be a truly successful oncologist. Interestingly enough, some of these skills have nothing to do with medicine itself — at least not directly.
Having at least some command over communication is an essential skill for almost any professional, but even more so for the oncologist. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that oncologists are often lacking in this area. The problem comes into play when trying to relate complex information to patients, and better communication skills would make this much easier. They also come in handy when giving instructions to support staff, such as oncology nurses and therapists.
Waiting for a prognosis may be one of the most vulnerable times in a person’s life, and it would befit the occasion if an oncologist approached it as such. Rather than coming in and giving a fairly clinical diagnosis, some of the best oncologists show a mix of kindness, compassion and empathy when delivering the news. At the same time, however, they display a calm confidence that the patient is in the best hands. All of these interpersonal skills can do wonders for putting patients at greater ease.
As with most medical professionals, oncologists end up working with a team of people. Nurses, therapists and other specialists must work together, and everyone must be willing to listen to the opinions of others to make a patient well. But collaboration goes far beyond this. The patient is also part of this team, and an oncologist should value the patient’s opinion when it comes to her care. Asking questions about choices for treatment can give the patient some control — or at least the feeling of control — over her own life during a time where she may feel powerless.
Of course, medical skills are important to be a successful oncologist. You must first be able to take all the information presented to you and determine the type and stage of cancer with which the patient is dealing. From there, you must determine the best form of treatment, be it surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or another method. There are also complementary and alternative therapies that might improve a person’s quality of life during treatment.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.