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Medical oncologists are doctors that specialize in the diagnosis and non-surgical treatment of cancers. Medical oncologists work to improve the life of their patients by providing non-surgical cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and by managing symptoms.
Currently, there are about 13,000 oncologists (of all types) working in the United States.
To become a medical oncologist, students must graduate from medical school with either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O). Doctors will need to complete several more years of training after medical school to become a medical oncologist.
After graduating medical school, doctors will complete a 3-year residency program in either pediatrics or internal medicine. Doctors who want to work in pediatric oncology will complete their residency in pediatrics, and doctors who want to work with adult patients will complete their residency in internal medicine.
Doctors will then go on to complete a 1 to a 3-year fellowship program in oncology. Depending on the doctor’s career track, the fellowship may be in pediatric oncology.
There are many different oncology specialties that doctors can choose to study, including:
- Gynecological oncology
- Radiation oncology
- Gastrointestinal tract cancers
- Surgical oncology (discussed here)
- Blood and lymph cancer
Medical doctors need licenses to practice medicine in any state. Medical licenses are controlled at a state level, so requirements will vary from state to state, but all involve a lengthy test. These licenses allow doctors to practice any type of medicine in the state without displaying specific qualification in one specialty.
Medical oncologists will need to become board certified after gaining a license and completing a residency and fellowship. These doctors will need two board certifications. Doctors on the pediatrics route will be certified by the American Board of Pediatrics after their residency program, and adult medical oncologists will be certified in internal medicine by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM). Both doctors will also need to be board certified in oncology (or pediatric oncology) by the ABIM after completing a fellowship.
Where Medical Oncologists Work
Medical oncologists can choose to work in a variety of different settings including hospitals, cancer centers, or other medical and healthcare networks. These doctors may also work in clinical and research settings related to cancer treatments, or may work in education.
How They Help People
Medical oncologists diagnose, assess, treat and manage a variety of cancers in patients. They work to improve the quality of life for their patients either by providing non-surgical treatments, referring their patients to a surgical oncologist, or by providing palliative and end of life care.
Medical oncologists will work with a team of other doctors including pathologists, surgeons, radiologists, nurses, and social workers to create a treatment plan for their patients. These doctors provide holistic care for their patients and will counsel cancer patients and their families through difficult decisions.
The first role of medical oncologists is to diagnose the type and stage of cancer in the patient. Medical oncologists will take blood and bone marrow samples, order imaging tests such as a CT, MRI, and/or PET scan, or take biopsies (tissue samples) to test for cancerous cells.
These doctors will analyze the diagnostic data and create treatment plans for their patients that may include chemotherapy or drug treatments. If the patient requires radiation or surgical treatments, medical oncologists will refer them to other specialty doctors. Medical oncologists provide treatments that will boost the body’s immune system and reduce inflammation. They can also enter patients into clinical trials for new treatments.
Pediatric medical oncologists focus on treating cancer that occurs in children, like pediatric leukemia. These doctors work to find the least invasive possible treatments for their young patients. When patients need additional treatments, pediatric medical oncologists will refer patients to other specialty doctors such as pediatric surgical oncologists.
The average salary of a medical oncologist is $285,000 per year.
Medical Negligence and Medical Oncologists
Medical studies have found that between 10 to 20% of cancers are misdiagnosed and that about 25% of cancer diagnosis mistakes are fatal or life threatening. Diagnosis errors are the most common form of medical malpractice among medical oncologists.
Medical oncologists need to treat patients within the standard of care, or as any other reasonable doctor in their position would treat the patients. Breaking from the standard can result in malpractice.
Diagnosis errors can include a delayed diagnosis, a misdiagnosis, or failed diagnosis when the doctor fails to make any kind of diagnosis. Diagnosis errors can occur when doctors misinterpret test results, use incorrect diagnostic methods, or when they fail to notice re-growth of malignant (cancerous) tumors.
Communication errors also cause malpractice issues. Medical oncologists work with a variety of other doctors and health care professionals to treat their patients, and all parties must be kept up to date on treatment plans and test results. The smallest acts of carelessness, like messy handwriting, can lead to serious injuries for patients. Medical oncologists should keep clear records of all diagnostic tests and treatment plans, and should regularly share this information with other health care professionals treating the same patient.
Experienced Maryland Medical Malpractice Attorneys
Negligent care by a medical oncologist can allow serious health conditions to worsen, costing patients additional treatments and high medical bills, and possibly causing permanent damage.
If you or a loved one was the victim of medical malpractice while under the care of a medical oncologist, you need to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Malpractice victims are entitled to financial compensation for their suffering. Negligent doctors should be held responsible for any injuries they cause. If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical negligence, contact us at (800) 529-6162 a free consultation and to begin your case.