Oncology and Oncologist – Some things medical students ought to understand


With more than 50 national organizations focused on and dedicated towards serving patients suffering from different kinds of cancer, it has become evident that cancer affects nearly everyone in the society.

The field of oncology comprises of medical experts dedicated towards learning more about the disease and how it can be cured and treated to raise rates of survival and improve the patient’s quality of life during the treatment and beyond the treatment.

A lot of physicians working in Oncology often share inspirational stories about family members who were affected by cancer on a personal level. A lot of medical students often wonder what do oncologists do and should they enter this field or not?

Let us now read more about it to see what Oncology is and where this field will take them.

Oncology – What is it?

According to experienced faculty members and senior oncologists working at a renowned Caribbean medical university school of medicine, Oncology is a field of medicine focusing on diagnosis and treatment of cancer in as many ways as possible.

The following areas of oncology are given unique names in identifying different branches of the filed. They are as under:

Radiation Oncology

Radiation Oncology is that field of medicine which uses radiation therapy in treating cancer. This is the only specialty in oncology recognized officially by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). All other oncology focus areas are listed as subspecialties within a wider area of specialty.

Medical Oncology

Medical Oncology is that field of medicine where chemotherapy and other medical methods are used in targeting the human body’s immune system in order to fight off cancer.

Surgical Oncology

Surgical oncology is that field of medicine where surgery is used to find and remove cancer. Such is done in hopes of stopping it from metastasizing and spreading to other parts of the human body.

Gynecologic Oncology

Gynecologic oncology is that field of medicine that targets female reproductive cancers, like ovarian caner or cervical cancer.

Hematology Oncology

This field of medicine targets blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma.

Pediatric Oncology

Pediatric oncology is that field of medicine that targets cancers in children, especially those that are more prone to appear in children than in adults. Among them is Ewing’s sarcoma.

Dermatologic Oncology

Dermatologic oncology is that field of medicine which targets skin cancer and cancers of the mucous membranes.

Musculoskeletal Oncology

Musculoskeletal Oncology is the field of medicine that targets bone cancers and other cancers and non-cancerous tumors within the musculoskeletal system.

What do Oncologists do?

Once a patient is referred to an oncologist for suspicion of cancer, the treatment plan isn’t easy; it’s complicated. The oncologist leads the medical team which has experience in confirming diagnosis of cancer and accordingly develops a treatment plan that considers the patient’s health and life as top priority.

Oncologists might need to order conducting many different tests ranging from DNA and blood tests to diagnostic imaging.Depending on the kind of cancer suspected, the oncologist might need to use specialized tests, especially those that detect and identify brain tumors, gynecologic tumors etc.

Once the diagnosis of cancer has been confirmed, the oncologist will then need to evaluate the tests in order to determine the best course of treatment that is instrumental in aggressively fighting cancer. Such is also done simultaneously in a matter to ensure the patient’s life is not in danger (i.e. may not require extensive medical care due to overexposure to radiation).

If the cancer is isolated, surgery might have a high rate of success of permanent remission. Whereas cancers in more advanced stages might require chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

Throughout this process, the oncologist will have the need to share updates, options, risks and recommendations with the patient and their respective family members. In order to handle such delicate conversations carefully, an exceptional bedside manner with the patient is needed in order to share the information whilst also providing comfort and understanding through a worrisome situation.

As the treatment progresses, oncologists must also track the progress of a patient diligently and precisely to ensure that the treatment plans are either going accordingly or need to be adjusted accordingly just in case the cancer is not responding to the treatment or a previously cured cancer emerges in the patient again.

How does a medical student become an oncologist?

A lot of oncologists are often dealing with diseases and conditions involving complex treatment methods, plans and procedures as well as different rates of survival. Hence, they must go under extensive training.

While some training is generally applicable to all kinds of cancer, a lot of oncologists will choose a specific type of cancer as a specialty and complete extensive training, diagnostic research and treatment in that very area.Highly specialized oncologists will be best equipped to treat patients even in the diseases later stages.

The education and training of an oncologist

To become an oncologist, a medical student must finish 4 years of undergraduate work (i.e. premed, an undergraduate degree in microbiology, nursing, paramedics, chemistry, biology, biophysics etc.) and then must ace the medical college admissions test (MCAT) to enter medical school.

Oncology residencies and internships after medical school may last anywhere between 3 and 8 years. This is dependent on the medical student’s chosen specialty/pathway. Even after becoming a licensed oncologist, a physician will continue completing extensive research and training throughout their careers in staying on the current and latest advancements in therapies and treatment of cancer.


This is what it takes for medical students to become an oncologist and this is what oncologists do. We should be thankful we are living in an era where they are doing research on finding treatment that can help cure cancer effectively without hurting the patient’s quality of life.

Oncologists don’t work individually, they work collectively with others to ensure patients are not treated like some instrument at a repair shop. They in fact make sure that patients are doing well both physically and emotionally after getting cured for cancer.

James Sullivan
the authorJames Sullivan