How to become an Oncologist

Oct 18, 2021.

Are you thinking about pursuing a career in Oncology?

Oncology is the study of cancer. You may have gained an interest in Oncology as part of your medical rotation, or, perhaps this is an area that has always motivated you when it comes to your medical career. Whatever the reason, this is a vastly rewarding area of medicine, covering a patient’s care throughout the course of the disease.

To find out more about how to become an Oncologist, and the types of Oncologists there are, please take a look at our blog.

According to Cancer Research UK, 1 in 2 UK people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, which means that, nearly all of us will know, or have known, someone who has been diagnosed with cancer. We all understand just how devastating such a diagnosis can be, and for Oncologists, the pivotal role they play when it comes to treatment; whether that is finding a cure where possible, or, by providing treatment that will relieve and improve quality of life remaining, is a big draw into this fascinating area of medicine.

Entry requirements

If you want to become an Oncologist, speciality training is required. All Oncology Training schemes follow a structured curriculum; delivering training in cancer basic sciences and the management of malignant disease. Core Medical Training (CMT) must be completed, including completion of MRCP (UK).

The term Oncologist is an umbrella term which includes the specialities of Medical Oncology and Clinical Oncology and training, depending on the route you take. Any specialist Oncology training is entered into at ST3 level and depending on the specialty you take, differs in that:

  • Clinical Oncology training is supervised through the Royal College of Radiologists
    • The Fellowship Examination of The Royal College of Radiologists (FRCR) must be attained
    • After the minimum total duration of 5 years of training, a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) can be attained
  • Medical Oncology is supervised the Royal College of Physicians
    • With a minimum of 4 years to CCT  required
    • A period of research during specialist training is encouraged; e.g. an MD or PhD fellowship
    • A Speciality Certificate Examination must be taken, usually in their penultimate year of training

Types of Oncology

Whilst the term Oncology falls under either Medical or Clinical for training purposes, it is covered by three major areas based on treatments: medical oncology, radiation oncology, and surgical oncology.

Radiation oncology – cancer is treated using medication, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy

Medical oncology – cancer is targeted with radiation therapy

Surgical oncology – cancer is treated via surgery. This can involve removing tumours and nearby tissues during an operation. Surgical oncologists also perform certain types of biopsies, which can help diagnose cancer.

Oncology is further defined through work done in specialist areas such as Geriatric, Gynaecologic, Hematologic, Neurologic, Paediatric, Thoracic and Urologic oncology.

Essential Skills for Becoming an Oncologist

If you want to become an Oncologist, it is important to have certain skills:

  • Dedication and a desire to achieving the best outcomes for patients with cancer
  • Team player – working as part of a tumour site-specific multi-disciplinary team means you must be able to integrate well with others, communicate and manage others effectively
  • Forward thinking – have an interest in cancer research and a desire to develop and implement new treatments and therapies
  • Compassionate and empathetic – the ability to respond sensitively to patients dealing with their diagnosis
  • Emotional resilience – to be able to support and help patients during very difficult times

A day in the life of an Oncologist

As an extremely focused specialty, Oncologists spend the majority of their working week in direct patient contact in outpatient clinics and on the wards. You’ll regularly liaise with Nurses, Pathologists, Physicians, Medical Physicists, Radiologists and Radiographers too. For Clinical Oncologists, at least one session per week will be focused on the technical planning of radiotherapy for individual patients.

Another crucial part of an Oncologist’s ongoing work is devoting time to research, either through clinical trials or translational research.

Next steps

If you want to become an Oncologist, follow our handy steps guide:

  • Discover more about Oncology as part of your medical rotation
  • Speak to Consultants and Trainees in the speciality
  • Gain a solid grounding in general medicine and surgery during the Foundation Programme
  • Secure a place on a Core Medical Training (CMT) rotation (possibly including a placement in medical or clinical oncology or palliative medicine)
  • Take time to find out how the cancer services work in the UK
  • Apply for, take and pass the MRCP examination

We hope our blog helped answer any questions you had on becoming an Oncologist and if you’re planning on undertaking the required study whilst working, please get in touch. Our specialist Recruitment Consultants can help you find roles and shifts that fit around your study needs, with 1-2-1 support and guidance at every step of the way.