How to Become an Oncologist
Oncologist Careers & Degrees

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.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$201,440
$60K
$107K
$201K
$K
$K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$213,790
Alaska$230,160
Arizona$218,630
Arkansas$146,900
California$212,510
Colorado$195,190
Connecticut$206,200
Delaware$208,750
District of Columbia$165,080
Florida$204,690
Georgia$95,690
Hawaii$235,770
Idaho$173,190
Illinois$211,950
Indiana$257,270
Iowa$216,910
Kansas$211,770
Kentucky$209,700
Louisiana$188,650
Maine$239,460
Maryland$203,270
Massachusetts$232,970
Michigan$171,210
Minnesota$242,390
Mississippi$218,830
Missouri$216,350
Montana$202,100
Nebraska$249,510
Nevada$253,920
New Hampshire$241,240
New Jersey$220,790
New Mexico$280,620
New York$188,370
North Carolina$256,000
North Dakota$266,540
Ohio$196,860
Oklahoma$190,030
Oregon$237,910
Pennsylvania$227,650
Rhode Island$171,280
South Carolina$248,760
South Dakota$281,590
Tennessee$199,720
Texas$160,180
Utah$230,170
Vermont$207,920
Virginia$234,220
Washington$224,940
West Virginia$146,840
Wisconsin$253,900
Wyoming$273,570
Puerto Rico$73,990

The top earning state in the field is South Dakota, where the average salary is $281,590.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

South Dakota - $281,590
New Mexico - $280,620
Wyoming - $273,570
North Dakota - $266,540
Indiana - $257,270
* Salary information based on the May 2019 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

QuestionWhat 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.

QuestionHow 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.

QuestionHow 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.

QuestionWhat 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.

QuestionHow 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.

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