An oncologist is a specialist in cancers; s/he must be a specialist not only in types of cancerous tumors, which can be found in any part of the body, but also in their diagnosis and recognition of their symptoms, knowledge of therapies available, use of palliative (or hospice) care for patients with terminal malignancies and ongoing community efforts to educate not only patients but their families and loved ones about the forms cancer may take.
Training in Oncology
It is said that no doctor made his/her decision to be a medical professional straight out of college; that decision came a lot earlier in their life, hopefully at least in high school or middle school. The prospective oncologist must first train to be a prospective doctor, and should have specialized, even in early school classes, in science and math (with particular emphasis on chemistry and biology) which s/he will maintain in advanced coursework in college and beyond.
After college, in which the prospective doctor should already be receiving training in an accredited pre-medical school, s/he moves on to medical school, where extensive study in ethics, patient care and advanced sciences is supplemented by a huge number of hours in hospital and facility internships (at least 4000 hours experience are needed to be successful as a medical candidate in todays job market, and residencies and previous experience are always the touchstones to a successful medical career, not only as a general practitioner but also a cancer specialist such as a medical oncologist.
The Career of Oncology
An oncologist career is characterized by extensive therapy with thousands of patients, with the specialist recognizing the natures of various tumors and prescribing treatments for them, whether the treatments be surgical (usually performed if there is a certainty that the tumor can be removed) or radiation treatments (used when the cancer has developed and spreada process known as metastasesand the tumor is inoperable by surgical means). The specialist determines not only the procedure but the extent of its duration (some radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments can extend as many as 30 sessions, a huge drain on a patients energies, unless the specialist determines the patient can withstand them).
The rest of an oncologist career, post-operatively (even with patients that s/he may not have personally treated) is of a palliative naturethat is, treatment that takes the cancer to a state of remission or treatments and support that will assist the patient in his/her final months, if remission is unlikely. The dual nature of palliative treatment means that it is emotionally difficult to maintain professionalism on an ongoing basis; it is at this point that many specialists feel they have hit a roadblock with their own feelings.The ethics of informing a patient, and his/her loved ones, of terminal illness and a given point of death is often more than many oncologists can continue on an ongoing basis; this is why they must, in addition to being trained in their specialty to the highest degree, also possess a great degree of sensitivity and communicative skills to successfully address these patient/doctor interactions.
Finally, there are areas of specialization within the career of oncology itself; a medical oncologist can decide to specialize in surgical cases (for removal of tumors), in medical cases (chemotherapy and drug regimens), in radiation cases (for radiotherapy), gynecological cases (female reproductive organ tumors) and pediatrics (treatment of children with cancer).A fairly new field of specialization is known as interventional oncology, in which the specialist treats cases where minimally invasive techniques are required in the treatment of early-stage tumors.
Also, the burden of emotional stress previously placed upon an oncologist (which see above) may be alleviated with recent legislation, as many hospitals are now mandated (where before it was voluntary) to include oncologists on surgical teams, so as to shift responsibility (and the attendant emotional burdens) onto several professional shoulders.