Radiation oncologists are health care professionals who treat cancers and tumors through radiation therapy, according to SchoolsInTheUSA.com. They study how electrons, gamma rays and X-rays can help obliterate a variety of cancers such as brain tumors, lung cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer. Radiation oncologists must be able to handle difficult emotional situations involving cancer patients and their families.
Radiation oncologists confirm cancer-related diagnoses given by health care professionals such as diagnostic radiologists. They then must determine the best therapy technique to prescribe for destroying cancer cells in a patient while keeping normal tissue around the cancerous area healthy. Radiation oncologists use three-dimensional images to understand exactly where tumors are located so that they can limit the risks of side effects from radiation therapy. Examples of radiation treatments include stereotactic radiosurgery as well as radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy, the use of chemical agents to destroy cancer. After speaking with patients about their specific conditions, they then plan treatments, determining the correct amount of drugs and radiation to be used in a patient. Next, radiation therapists execute these plans. During treatments, radiation oncologists also regularly see patients to ensure they are managing okay.
Radiation oncologists must have strong verbal and interpersonal communication skills for speaking with cancer patients and their families along with a patient's primary practitioner and other health care professionals involved in a patient's diagnosis. They must be motivational, have strong leadership skills and understand the importance of being ethical when choosing treatments for patients as well. Most importantly, radiation oncologists must have a passion to help patients fight cancer. They need to be emotionally strong and willing to befriend cancer victims who fear the possibility of death. They also must have a strong background in diagnosing and treating cancer.
Radiation oncologists can find work in hospitals, where they can eventually advance to administration positions. They additionally can work in a group practice or have a private practice. Some radiation oncologists actually work for research laboratories, where they study potential radiation technologies for the future. These professionals also can teach in residency programs and medical schools. Radiation oncologists who work in hospitals might have to be on call, while those who own a private practice are better able to dictate their own schedule. They usually work long hours and thus must have strong physical stamina.
Radiation oncologists first usually complete a bachelor's degree in a science area and then apply to medical school. Medical schools are accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and require students to submit their Medical College Admission Test scores, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. After completing four years of medical school, aspiring radiation oncologists complete 12 months of internship and then about four years of resident training. The residency allows them to study both the specialties of clinical oncology and radiation oncology. These professionals seek certification through the American Board of Radiology, which is good for 10 years. Physicians also must be licensed by passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination.
Employment of physicians, which include radiation oncologists, is expected to climb 22 percent from 2008 to 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The growing elderly population is expected to cause a rise in the number of people needing radiation treatment. The average salary of a radiation oncologist in 2010 was $151,000, according to Indeed.com.
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