What's an Oncologist? - Job Description & Salary

Learn what an oncologist does and what kind of training is required for this career. You'll also find certification and licensure info along with the salary and job outlook for these physicians. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Oncologist Career at a Glance

An oncologist is a medical doctor specializing in the treatment of cancer. They work with their patients, managing their care from diagnosis through treatment, whether it is chemotherapy, surgery, radiation or any combination of these. The table below details the degrees required, skills, licenses, certification, job outlook and salary for oncologists.

Degree Required Medical degree
Training Required A residency followed by a fellowship in oncology
Key Skills Patient care, communication, problem-solving skills
Licensure and Certification Medical license required, board certification is common
Job Growth (2016-2026) 13% growth for all physicians and surgeons*
Median Salary (2019) $251,181 per year**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

What Does an Oncologist Do?

Oncologists can work within one of three major areas of oncology: medical, surgical and radiation. Some oncologists further specialize in a particular patient group or type of cancer. Pediatric oncologists, for example, specialize in treating cancer in children. Gynecological oncologists focus on treating cancers of the female reproductive organs, such as ovarian or cervical cancer. A hematologist-oncologist specializes in cancers of the blood.

Oncologists review patients' test results and walk them through their diagnoses. They also discuss treatment options and provide medical advice with compassion. Once a treatment plan has been created, oncologists might schedule radiation and chemotherapy treatments or perform surgery. They must work with a cadre of healthcare professionals, including radiologists, nurses and pathologists to provide care for a complex disease.

Do I Need a Degree?

Oncologists begin their studies by obtaining a bachelor's degree. They then pursue a medical degree. After medical school, oncologists complete a residency in a particular specialty, such as radiology, surgery, pediatrics, or internal medicine. Fellowships allow candidates to further specialize their education and experience in treating cancer. For example, an aspiring oncologist would take on an internal medicine residency followed by a medical oncology fellowship or a combined hematology and medical oncology fellowship.

Oncologists can expect to take 10-13 years to obtain their full education: four years for a bachelor's degree, four years of medical school and up to five years in the residency and fellowship programs required by the specialty they choose to pursue.

Do I Need to Be Licensed or Certified?

Oncologists must be licensed medical doctors. Oncologists who complete additional training in the form of residencies and fellowships can also become board certified by such organizations as the American Board of Internal Medicine or the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). Board certification is not required to practice medicine, but instead it provides for the assessment of a physician's skills and ensures they can apply standards set by a governing board.

How Much Do Oncologists Make?

According to Payscale.com, the median salary for an oncologist practicing in the United States is $251,181 per year as of February 2019. Education, years of experience, location and specialization are just some of the factors affecting an oncologist's pay.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A few related jobs include pathologist, oncology nurse, oncology social worker and radiologist. The complexity and changing nature of many cancers requires a collection of experts for every patient. There are ample opportunities to work in the field of cancer treatment without becoming an oncologist.

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