How to Become an Oncologist

Oncologist Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $280,800
Avg. Pay / hour $135.00
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 7%

An oncologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

If you are looking for a career in medicine and have a particular interest in cancer, then you might like to become an oncologist.

Many oncologists work in hospitals, where they will diagnose and treat patients who are suffering from cancer.

They may prescribe treatment plans which could include pharmacy drugs, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery.

They will care for their patients during and after their treatment, and also provide soothing care for those with terminal cases.

Oncology is also concerned with the ethics of cancer treatment, and many oncologists contribute to research into cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Education Requirements to Become an Oncologist

If you would like to work as an oncologist, you will first need to become a medical doctor.

At high school you will need to get excellent grades that will allow you entry into a good college.

You will need to complete a four year bachelors degree in pre-medicine.

After you graduate from college and take the MCAT, you can apply to medical school.

You entry will be based on your grade point average, examination scores, and an interview.

Medical school takes four years to complete, and during this time you will take on a mixture of coursework and practical experience working with patients.

At this point, you can take examinations to become certified as a medical doctor in your state.

You can find out your state’s specific requirements for licensure from the Federation of State Medical Boards.

You will then need to get a placement as an intern in a hospital.

A hospital with a strong oncology department would be ideal.

After internship you will need to complete a residency, then go on to an oncology fellowship or specialization.

To become a certified oncologist you will need to apply to the American Board of Medical Specialties.

Oncologist Job Description

When you become an oncologist, you will work to diagnose and treat patients who have cancer.

Usually a patient is referred to an oncologist by another medical professional.

They may have a range of symptoms which could suggest the occurrence of cancer.

An oncologist will review these symptoms as well as the patient’s medical history.

An oncologist will then order tests to confirm a diagnosis.

These could be a CAT or MRI scan, a biopsy, exploratory surgery, ultrasound, or a range of other tests.

The results will be reviewed, and the oncologist will form a diagnosis.

It is also your responsibility when you become an oncologist to break the news of their diagnosis to a patient, which can be very difficult at times.

The next step is a treatment plan.

Many instances of cancer can be treated to remission.

In other cases palliative care is applied to prolong a patient’s life and also the quality of their time.

In some types and stages of cancer, treatment is not an option at all.

Treatment can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, and a wide range of other treatment possibilities.

An oncologist will follow up with their patients as their treatment continues.

Once a patient enters remission, they will still have regular consultations with an oncologist, often for the rest of their lives.

Oncologist Salary and Career Path

During the many years of training it takes to become an oncologist, you can expect to work under the supervision of other doctors.

Often these programs take place in a learning hospital.

Once you become an oncologist you will have your own patients, and you may work out of a hospital, or in consulting rooms with other patients.

Many oncologists start their careers in a hospital, and later move on to private practice.

Some move into research in the field of oncology, working towards better screening measures, diagnosis, and treatment of patients.

A medical specialist such as an oncologist can expect to earn close to the median salary of $300,000 a year.

Those in private practice will earn more than those in a public hospital.

Researchers may be paid less than those working with patients.

Some similar roles to that of an oncologist include:

  • Medical doctor
  • Neurologist
  • Medical researcher
  • Radiographer
  • Biologist
  • Microbiologist

If you are looking towards a career in medicine that can really make a difference to the health and life of patients, then you might like to become an oncologist.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Arkansas- NA -
District of Columbia$162,650
New Hampshire$304,000
New Jersey$243,590
New Mexico$314,760
New York$182,040
North Carolina$303,230
Rhode Island$279,640
South Carolina$290,010
South Dakota$308,160
West Virginia$158,250
Puerto Rico$71,660

The top earning state in the field is Missouri, where the average salary is $340,150.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Missouri - $340,150
Oklahoma - $327,540
Wisconsin - $314,820
New Mexico - $314,760
Minnesota - $308,190
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for General Internal Medicine Physicians, OCC Code 29-1216, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an oncologist?

An oncologist is a physician who diagnoses and treats patients who have cancer.

They design personalized treatment plans for each one of their patients based on detailed reports about the type of cancer, its development, what parts of the patient’s body are affected and how fast it is likely to spread.

Oncologists also have the role of explaining the diagnosis to their patients, informing them about the treatments available and about side effects.

Oncologists usually specialize in one particular type of treatment or therapy.

Medical oncologists use treatments such as chemotherapy and hormonal therapies and help their patients manage side effects.

Radiation oncologists use radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells.

Surgical oncologists specialize in performing biopsies and in removing tumors.

Other oncologists specialize in treating children (pediatric oncologists), treating diseases that affect the female reproductive system (gynecologic oncologists) or blood cancers (hematologist oncologists).

Oncologists need many years of training but also a special set of personal skills, including compassion, patience, communication, and problem-solving skills.

How much does an oncologist make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for physicians and surgeons, in general, was equal to or greater than $208,000 as of May 2018.

Salaries for oncologists vary widely depending on their level of experience, education, employer and region.

How much does it cost to become an oncologist?

If you want to become an oncologist, the first step is to complete your undergraduate education.

A bachelor’s degree program with pre-medicine classes can cost you anywhere between $15,000 and more than $60,000 a year, depending on the school you choose.

Before enrolling at medical school you should take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

The MCAT registration fee is $315.

Medical school will cost you between $30,000 and more than $60,000 a year at a public school; private colleges can be more expensive.

What is the demand for oncologists?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for physicians and surgeons is expected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028 but employment opportunities vary depending on the specialty.

Demand for physicians is also sensitive to government policies and to the level of health coverage.

After graduating from a domestic medical school you will usually be referred to a residency, which is your first job as a physician.

How long does it take to become an oncologist?

Oncologists, like all physicians, need many years of training.

After four years of college, prospective oncologists need to complete four years of medical school.

Medical school graduates continue their training with 2 to 5 years of residency, depending on the field of oncology in which they wish to specialize.

After completing your training you are ready to apply for a state license, which means that you will have to take and pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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