Why You Should Pursue a Career in Oncology


February 8, 2024

Pursuing a career in oncology offers a unique blend of scientific challenge and compassionate care, making a profound difference in the lives of those affected by cancer. This article introduces the rewarding journey of oncologists who engage in cutting-edge treatments and research, emphasising the necessity of empathy, teamwork, and a commitment to lifelong learning. For those inspired to impact the fight against cancer directly, oncology presents a fulfilling path marked by the opportunity to advance medical science and provide critical support to patients and their families.

Understanding the Role of an Oncologist

An oncologist refers to specialists within the broader field of oncology, encompassing both Medical Oncology and Clinical Oncology. Medical Oncology focuses on the treatment of cancer through non-surgical means such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and biological agents. Clinical Oncology, on the other hand, involves the use of radiotherapy alongside systemic therapies for cancer treatment.

The Importance of Oncology

Cancer is a prevalent disease, with predictions indicating that 1 in 3 individuals in the UK will face a cancer diagnosis during their lifetime. Many have witnessed a loved one or a close acquaintance battle with cancer, bringing about significant stress and concern for the future. It is the distinct nature of cancer patients’ experiences that profoundly inspires oncologists. They are driven by the ambition to alter the disease’s trajectory for cancer patients, aiming to cure when possible or, alternatively, to prolong and enhance the quality of life for those where a cure is not feasible, alongside offering effective symptom relief. This drive serves as an inspiration to many to pursue a career in Oncology.

Specialty Training in Oncology

Specialty training in both Clinical and Medical Oncology begins following Core Medical Training (CMT) and the acquisition of the MRCP(UK) qualification. Clinical Oncology training is overseen by the Royal College of Radiologists, whereas Medical Oncology training is governed by the Royal College of Physicians. Each oncology training program adheres to a structured curriculum that encompasses both the fundamental sciences of cancer and practical management of malignant diseases. Trainees typically rotate among various hospitals, including a main (base) hospital and others, to acquire a broad spectrum of clinical experience. In Northern Ireland, for example, trainees are primarily stationed at the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital and participate in clinics across the four Cancer Units.

For Clinical Oncology, the pathway includes passing the Fellowship Examination of The Royal College of Radiologists (FRCR). The initial FRCR exam, which is undertaken after a year of specialty training, covers essential scientific knowledge including medical physics, radiobiology, cell biology, medical statistics, and clinical pharmacology. The Final FRCR Examination, usually attempted two years later, evaluates the trainee’s understanding of the basic management of both common and some rare cancers. Post-FRCR, trainees focus on expanding their expertise in specific disease areas, often including international experience or research. The minimum duration for Clinical Oncology training is five years, culminating in eligibility for the Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT).

Medical Oncology training, on the other hand, requires at least four years until CCT. Trainees in this field are encouraged to engage in research, with many opting to pursue an MD or PhD. They must also pass a Specialty Certificate Examination, typically in the final or penultimate year of their training.

A Week in the Life of an Oncologist

The field of oncology is predominantly clinical, with a significant portion of an oncologist’s week dedicated to interacting directly with patients in outpatient clinics, the radiotherapy department, and hospital wards. Clinical Oncologists allocate at least one session weekly to meticulously plan radiotherapy treatments for patients. Additionally, engaging in clinical trials or translational research is a key aspect of enhancing patient care, particularly for Medical Oncologists, who allocate part of their week to research activities.

Essential Qualities for an Oncologist

Effective teamwork is crucial in oncology, as oncologists typically collaborate with a tumour site-specific multidisciplinary team, including specialty nurses, radiographers, physicists, surgeons, and other medical professionals. This requires seamless integration and communication among team members. Proficient communication skills are vital for both patient care and teamwork. Oncologists must also be eager to learn and apply new drug and radiotherapy technologies in their practice due to the rapid advancements in these areas. Above all, empathy is paramount for oncologists to support patients navigating through the challenges of a serious and often daunting diagnosis.

Published on 08-02-2024