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What Should I Major in to Be an Oncologist?

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Oncologists are medical doctors who treat cancer patients. There are multiple specialties and subspecialties within the field of oncology, but none of them require a specific oncology-related degree. Instead, you will need to earn a medical degree and gain specialized training through your residency.


To become an oncologist you first must get into medical school. There is no specific degree that you need to earn as an undergrad to get into medical school. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you should have coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, math, English, the humanities and social sciences. Some medical schools will consider applicants with partial undergraduate educations, but medical schools are highly competitive so it's advisable to complete your degree before applying. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "most applicants to medical school have at least a bachelor's degree, and many have advanced degrees."

Medical Degree

Oncologists, like all physicians, spend four years in med school. The first two years include classroom work in courses such as anatomy, biochemistry and medical ethics. In the final two years of school, students gain hands-on experience working under the supervision of experienced physicians.


After completing medical school, doctors can train in oncology -- or in another specialized field. This training takes place on the job through a residency program. According to the American Association of Clinical Oncology, there are several specialties and subspecialties in oncology, such as internal medicine, radiation oncology and urology. Depending on the area of oncology that you choose, your residency will last between five and eight years.


Oncologists must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, as do all medical doctors. You will also need to pass state-specific licensing examinations; these vary from state to state, but your state medical board can provide you with details. You will need to receive board certification to practice specialties and subspecialties of oncology such as internal medicine or radiation oncology. Specializations, such as the urology specialization in urologuic oncology, require additional training in your residency but they do not require board certification.

2016 Salary Information for Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons earned a median annual salary of $204,950 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicians and surgeons earned a 25th percentile salary of $131,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $261,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 713,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physicians and surgeons.