Oncology career guideJanuary 9, 2015
Oncologists specialise in the diagnosis and management of cancer. They are especially trained in the techniques of radiation and chemotherapy treatments as well as cancer removal surgery. Oncology physicians see their patients in the hospital and also on an outpatient basis depending on their condition.
As an oncologist, you can also choose to focus on research, teaching or clinical oncology.
Those who focus on the research aspect of oncology, typically conduct clinical trials in the search for new cancer treatments. If you choose to become a professor, you would be responsible for teaching medical students in either the clinical or research side of oncology.
As a clinical oncology physician, you can choose to specialise in any one of these specialties:
- Medical Oncology: Involves treating solid tumours, either through chemotherapy or referral to a surgical oncologist
- Haematology Oncology: Focuses on treating malignancies and blood disorders such as leukaemia and sickle cell anaemia. To practice in this field you would need to do two fellowships after your residency – medical oncology and haematology.
- Paediatric Oncology: Focuses on diagnosing and treating cancer in children.
- Gynaecological Oncology: Focuses on cancers of the female reproductive system. To practice this specialty you have to first train to become an OB/Gyn and then sub-specialise in oncology with a fellowship program.
- Surgical Oncology: To practice surgical oncology, you would first need to train as a general surgeon and then do additional training in oncology and tumour removal.
In order to become an oncologist, you must first complete 4 years of a medical school program and receive your M.D. after which you will have to complete a three to five year residency program. The duration of the residency program depend on the subspecialty that you choose. If you choose to train as medical oncologist, you will do a 3 year internal medicine residency followed by a two year oncology residency. If you wish to sub-specialise in paediatric or radiation oncology, you will have to follow a different residency track. Before being able to practice in your specialty, you will also have to become board certified in that particular specialty.
The average annual salary of an oncologist in Australia is AUD 200,000 with a starting annual salary of about AUD 45,000 and AUD 350,000 at the higher end, depending on your specialisation, years of practice and type of establishment.
Most oncologists work on average about 35 to 50 hours per week. While these specialists are often among the more highly paid physicians, it can be emotionally draining as it often involves dealing with patients who are suffering from life-limiting diseases. At the same time you can also save a lot of lives through cancer treatments, so it can be emotionally rewarding as well.
On average, cancer affects close to 12 million people a year. While this is not something to celebrate, it does mean that the demand for oncologists in all specialties will continue to grow. The good news on this front is that the mortality rates of cancer patients have been continually decreasing as treatments have become more advanced and more effective. This also means that there is increasing demand for oncologists in the research and teaching sectors of the field.