How to Become an Oncologist

November 22

Table of Contents

You might have considered oncology when choosing a medical subspecialty. Oncology focuses on the study of cancer. Your medical rotation may have piqued your interest in oncology, or perhaps this field has always inspired you to pursue a medical career. 

Whatever the reason, this field of medicine covers a patient's treatment throughout the disease and is incredibly fulfilling.

This article is an in-depth explanation of how to become an oncologist. We have also included crucial information about oncology, like study duration, oncology salaries, and the requirements of becoming one.

What is an Oncologist?

Doctors specializing in diagnosing, examining, and treating cancer patients are known as oncologists. You should apply for this role if you have the required knowledge and enjoy helping cancer patients. 

As an oncologist, it will be your responsibility to both treat cancer patients and carry out research to discover more effective treatments and cures.

Oncologists, trained to provide compassionate treatment, typically first encounter patients when they show cancer symptoms or when tests and X-rays reveal the disease in their body. 

Early consultations with an oncologist focus on determining the presence and type of cancer and how far along it is.

A staging system, from zero to four (or from I to IV), which begins from the least severe and then onto the most aggressive, is one of the most frequent ways an oncologist may address a cancer diagnosis. This classification applies to all types of cancer, with lower stages typically requiring less invasive forms of therapy.

An oncologist usually describes the location(s) of the disease, where it has spread, and other sections of the body that may have been affected by cancer while speaking with a patient about a cancer diagnosis. 

The optimal line of action will be highlighted by an oncologist, who will also discuss potential treatments for the form of cancer in the issue.

There are various subfields of oncology practice depending on different therapeutic modalities. These territories consist of:

Medical Oncology

These oncologists use drugs, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy, to treat cancer. These treatments are frequently combined with other methods by oncologists.

Radiation Oncology

A doctor specializing in radiation treatment to treat cancer is known as a radiation oncologist. High-energy radiation waves are used in radiation treatment to kill cancer cells.

Surgical Oncology

Oncologists who specialize in surgery conduct operations to sample tissue and remove malignant tumors from the body. These doctors may do biopsies that enable them to identify cancer using gathered tissue samples.

What Are the Duties and Responsibilities of an Oncologist? 

If you want to become an oncologist, be aware that they frequently work overtime. They may travel between their offices and hospitals to care for their patients. They can take care of a patient via phone call or visit a nursing home or hospital in an emergency while on call.

Furthermore, the list below details the different duties and responsibilities of an oncologist:

  • Getting the patient's medical background
  • Suggesting and creating a therapy strategy
  • Offering patients ongoing attention and counsel
  • Examining test results to uncover any unusual findings
  • Ordering tests to be completed by nurses or other medical personnel
  • Updating their knowledge of fresh oncology-related results and research
  • Revising patient records and charts to reflect the most recent discoveries and therapies
  • Addressing any worries or inquiries patients may have regarding their health and well-being
  • Encouraging patients to take care of their health by talking to them about things like good nutrition and hygiene
  • Prescribing a suitable course of cancer treatment, which may entail drugs, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, removal, or hospice care
  • Possessing a thorough awareness of the signs and symptoms associated with various cancer forms, as well as how each one affects the human body
  • Reading the findings of a variety of tests, including CT or MRI scans, biopsies, and ultrasounds, and deciding which tests are necessary to get an accurate cancer diagnosis

What are the Requirements to Become an Oncologist?

A four-year college degree is the initial requirement to become an oncologist. While it is unnecessary, enrolling in many general science, biology, and chemistry classes will offer you an advantage when applying to medical schools.

You must also get a substantial score on the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) to apply to medical school. Oncologists can pursue their education at an allopathic (MD) or an osteopathic (DO) medical school.

How Much Does It Cost to Become an Oncologist?

Oncology programs are offered at various medical schools throughout the United States, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Like any other medical specialty, becoming an oncologist can be highly costly. 

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, the typical four-year cost of medical school in the United States ranges from USD 255,517 to USD 337,584. This could explain why, in 2023, medical students who took out loans graduated with an average debt of USD 207,500.

Time spent in classrooms, labs, and clinical settings is included. Tuition, fees, housing, books, boarding, and supplies are all included in the cost of attendance, which is a more thorough evaluation of spending.

The cost of becoming an oncologist varies depending on the medical school. 

However, the overall cost would be the same as mentioned above. We also advise that you confirm with the medical school of your choice about the amount of their oncology program.

How to Become an Oncologist?

Our detailed instructions about how to become an oncologist are provided here. Because oncology is a specialization, a fellowship program is necessary once a resident completes their residency.

1. Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

To become an oncologist, one must first have a bachelor's degree. 

On average, it takes four years to finish this. You will acquire information and abilities in the natural sciences that you can apply in medical school by earning your undergraduate degree in biology, chemistry, pre-medicine, kinesiology, or another relevant scientific discipline.

Additionally, you might take the following courses as part of your program:

  • Biology
  • Calculus
  • Chemistry
  • Public health
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Health Policy and Management

While obtaining your degree, think about looking for chances to gain practical work experience. 

When you apply to medical school, having experience working or volunteering in the medical sector might help your application stand out from the competition.

One way to become engaged and improve your community is by volunteering at a hospital, cancer center, rehabilitation facility, or cancer support service group. You can learn about the industry while developing practical skills through these activities. It can also be a fruitful method of networking with experts who are already well-known in the industry.

2. Take and Pass the MCAT

Most medical schools consider your MCAT score a key determinant of acceptance. You can improve your MCAT preparation by finishing the prerequisite courses for medical school

Contact a qualified teacher to assist you with your MCAT preparation if you are worried about taking or retaking the test.

3. Pursue Medical School

Once you have completed your undergraduate studies, send applications to medical schools. 

Being accepted into medical school can be challenging, so if you do not hear back immediately, keep applying each year.

Four years are typically needed to complete medical school. It usually involves a period of classroom instruction followed by practical clinical training. You rotate between clinical specializations throughout your study to learn about various medical disciplines. 

If you become a licensed doctor, this training could help you decide what branch of medicine you wish to practice.

4. Finish a Four-year MD or DO Program

You can start working on your medical degree when admitted to med school. You can obtain a medical degree from allopathic and osteopathic colleges and later select any specialty.

A medical degree usually requires four years to finish. The first two years are devoted to general science studies in a typical educational structure. In comparison, the final two years are focused on clinical experience and rotations in your areas of interest. 

Furthermore, you will begin the application procedure for a medical license while in med school. 

After their second year of medical school, most students take Step 1 of the USMLE

After your fourth year of medical school, you will typically take Step 2, and during your residency, Step 3.

5. Apply for a Residency Program

Applications for residency programs can now be submitted. Since oncology is a specialist, unless you locate cancer residencies relevant to your interests, you will probably need to enroll in an oncology fellowship program after residency. 

The sort of oncology you wish to practice should be reflected in your residency selection. 

Gynecologic oncologists, for instance, must finish a residency in gynecology before subspecialization. 

Medical oncologists must complete an internal medicine residency before enrolling in an oncology fellowship program.

You can apply for oncology residencies through the ERAS application. A residency program will ask you for an interview or more application materials if they are interested in you. After that, you can continue the matching procedure.

The National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) technology enables programs and prospective residents to compile a "rank order list." 

After receiving the lists from the pupils and programs, the algorithm's "Match" function matches each resident with the best compatible program it can find.

6. Apply for a Residency Program

You must enroll in an oncology fellowship program if you have not already completed a residency in the field. Programs for oncology fellows ordinarily last two years.

You will use what you have learned in oncology throughout your fellowship training. Admission to oncology fellowship programs is highly competitive and demanding.

After completing your oncology fellowship, you can take the American Board of Internal Medicine exam to get board-certified.

7. Acquire a Medical License

After completing all these steps, you must still earn full medical licensing. At this point, you will probably need to obtain a state license. 

Before issuing your license, most U.S. states require you to submit documentation, complete an educational program, and pass a test.

To minimize delays, you should submit an application for a state license in each state where you plan to practice.

Important Qualities Needed to Be an Oncologist

These days, one of the leading causes of death worldwide is cancer. We occasionally learn about persons who have this illness, for which there does not seem to be a reliable medical treatment.

To become an oncologist, you must know that this specialty requires skills and qualities to help your patients improve and eventually cure. 

That said, here are the different qualities that an oncologist must possess:

Great Communication Skills

Oncologists must possess outstanding communication skills. They must interact with patients and other healthcare support employees effectively.


Sick or injured patients may be in great pain or distress. 

Oncologists must show compassion and understanding to their patients' relatives.

Attention to Detail

Patients must receive the proper care and drugs. 

Oncologists are required to carefully track and document various patient care-related data.


Oncologists may use exact and occasionally sharp tools, and errors can have significant repercussions.

Leadership Abilities

Oncologists who run their own practice oversee a team of other specialists.

Organizational Skills

Adequate recordkeeping and other organizational skills are essential in commercial and medical contexts.


Oncologists may spend a lot of time with patients who require extra care. Those who are afraid of getting sick might need more tolerance.

Physical Stamina

Oncologists should be at ease lifting, twisting, or doing other physical labor for impaired patients.

Problem-Solving Skills

Oncologists must analyze patients' symptoms to choose the best course of treatment. If a patient's life is in danger, they must act promptly.

How Much Do Oncologists Make?

After discussing the requirements to become an oncologist, let us discuss how much an oncologist makes. 

The typical pay for oncologists ranges from USD 266,427 to USD 421,795, depending on whose website you look at. 

Your sector, specialty, and the state in which you practice all affect your typical wage. For instance, the income of a surgical oncologist may be comparable to that of a radiation oncologist

Still, your experience level and other considerations may tip the scales more in your favor.

Additional FAQs – How to Become an Oncologist?

How Long Does It Take to Become an Oncologist?

The education required to become a medical oncologist is 14–16 years. A bachelor's degree must be earned in the first four years, and then four more years must be spent in medical school.

A four to six-year residency in internal medicine is necessary for medical oncology. The last program you will enroll in is an oncology fellowship, which usually lasts two years.

Is Being an Oncologist a Demanding Job?

Oncology requires a great deal of enthusiasm and commitment. It would help if you enrolled in highly competitive programs, and training takes years. 

In addition, you will face ardent rivals because so many doctors have had heartbreaking cancer-related experiences. 

Make sure you have the passion necessary to stand out and land your place in residency and fellowship training if cancer is something you are thinking about.

Is Oncology a Very Competitive Specialty?

Fellowship training in oncology is often necessary and can be highly competitive. The specialty is generally competitive, depending on the residency school you choose to enroll in.

For instance, due to pediatrics' relative prominence, medical oncology might not be as competitive as pediatric oncology.

You're no longer alone on your journey to becoming a physician

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