Oncology Career Paths And Training

Posted on: 9 April 2015


If you're considering a career in oncology, be prepared for a challenging and rewarding experience. Oncology is challenging because you'll be in close contact with people fighting a serious disease – cancer. The rewarding part, obviously, occurs when you help extend your patient's lives, or cure them completely. If the field interests you, remember that oncology is not practiced solely by oncologists. Indeed, a medical facility's oncology department includes several specialized roles.


If you wish to become an oncologist, you'll begin with standard training and education in internal medicine. You must obtain bachelor's degree and pass the Medical College Admission Test, be accepted into a medical school, graduate and become certified in internal medicine. Additionally, you'll need specialized training to become a certified oncologist. For example, you must obtain at least 24 months of training – 12 of which must be in a clinical setting – in bone marrow aspiration and biopsy procedure; administration of chemotherapy agents through all therapeutic routes; and in management and care of catheters placed within patients' veins.

After gaining your oncology certification, you may diagnose and treat cancer patients as a general oncologist, or you may wish to specialize in treating one form of cancer. You can also perform research and, eventually, teach oncology.

Radiation Therapists

When an oncologist prescribes radiation treatment for a cancer patient, the treatment is administered by radiation therapists. To become a radiation therapist you must earn an academic degree – typically a two-year associate's degree – from an accredited institution. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) sets the standards for accredited programs. After completing the academic program, you must pass the ARRT's examination. If you pass the test you'll be certified as a Registered Technologist. You'll then have to meet the ARRT's continuing education requirements to renew your registration every two years.

Oncology Nurses

Oncology nurses perform a variety of services, such as assisting oncologists, monitoring patients, and administering chemotherapy and other medication. Similar to the oncologist, a prospective oncology nurse receives the same initial education as other nurses. You'll need a bachelor of science degree in nursing, and then you'll have to pass an exam to become a registered nurse. After one year on the job, which must include 1,000 hours of oncology work, you can apply for an oncology nursing certification program.

Physician Assistants

As the name suggests, oncology physician assistants (PAs) work under the supervision of oncologists, performing a variety of important tasks. Among their many duties, PAs may examine and diagnose patients, create treatment plans, prescribe medication and assist during surgery.

As a prospective PA you need a bachelor's degree, followed by a PA master's program that lasts 24-27 months. You must then pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam before being qualified to practice as an oncology PA.