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Oncologists are physicians who treat patients with cancer and related diseases. The specialty includes medical oncologists, who prescribe and administer medication; radiation oncologists, who administer radiation therapy; and pediatric oncologists, who treat children. All oncologists complete rigorous residency training after graduating from medical school. Radiation and medical oncologists require five years of residency training, while pediatric oncologists complete six years of post-graduate education.
A bachelor's degree, which normally takes four years to earn at an accredited college or university, is required for admission to medical school. A future doctor's undergraduate curriculum includes chemistry, biology and physics. Medical students who intend to pursue careers in oncology complete four years of graduate study toward an M.D. degree at a traditional medical school, or they can earn a D.O. from an accredited school of osteopathic medicine. The course of study for all medical school students is the same for all aspiring doctors; there are no specific courses in oncology.
Medical oncology is a subspecialty of internal medicine, and the organization that certifies oncologists is the American Board of Internal Medicine, or ABIM. A medical oncologist must first spend 36 months as an internal medicine resident. After completing that residency and passing the ABIM certification exams in internal medicine, he goes on to complete a two-year fellowship in medical oncology. Once he passes the ABIM medical oncology exam, he becomes board-certified in the specialty. The entire process takes five years, so a medical oncologist requires a total of nine years of medical education and training.
A radiation oncologist begins post-graduate training with a one-year general residency in one or a combination of specialties, including internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery, and obstetrics and gynecology. A preliminary year of residency in radiation oncology, known as a categorical or transitional year, also meets the initial training requirements of the American Board of Radiology. To earn ABR certification in radiation oncology, a candidate must complete a full four-year specialty residency program to be eligible to take the board exams. By the time a radiation oncologist official enters the field, he has completed nine years of graduate and post-graduate training.
Pediatric Cancer Specialists
A pediatric cancer specialist is also trained in the treatment of blood diseases, so the American Board of Pediatrics grants certification in pediatric hematology-oncology. The ABP considers it a subspecialty of general pediatrics, so a physician must complete a three-year residency in general pediatrics and attain board certification before pursuing training in pediatric hematology-oncology. This is followed by a three-year fellowship in pediatric hematology-oncology, after which a candidate passes a set of exams to earn board certification. The entire medical education and training period for a pediatric oncologist is 10 years.