Radiology oncologists are medical doctors who specialize in treating cancer patients with radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is often given to patients in combination with surgery or chemotherapy. Radiology oncologists have a 13-year training period, but have a higher salary than most types of medical doctors.
The salary of radiology oncologists ranges from $242,900 to $518,991, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges. However, radiation oncologists earn that much only after completing a five-year residency program in radiation oncology. Radiologists who have a private practice usually earn more than those who work in an academic setting. In addition, radiologists who work in cities might earn more than those in rural areas if they see more patients. Radiologists with more experience sometimes have higher salaries than radiologists just leaving their residency. Some radiologists open their own diagnostic imaging centers, which can lead to an even higher income. Most radiation oncology programs provide radiation oncology residents with approximately $50,000 each year. There are 81 accredited radiology oncology programs to which medical students can apply in the United States.
The first step for becoming a radiation oncologist is to obtain an undergraduate degree and complete the pre-medical courses required for entering medical school. This usually takes four years, but medical schools will accept applicants who complete their undergraduate degree faster. Most pre-med students take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) during their junior year before applying to medical school. The next step is to complete four years of medical school and take the first two steps of the United States Medical Licensing Examination. It’s extremely important for aspiring radiology oncologists to earn high marks on this exam, because their scores will help determine whether they obtain a spot in a radiology oncology residency program. Medical school students with low scores on the USMLE might not be able to secure a spot in a radiology oncology residency program and might have to choose another medical specialty.
Obtaining a spot in a radiation oncology residency program is difficult because the field is extremely competitive. Part of this is because it’s one of the highest-paid medical specialties, has one of the lowest malpractice insurance rates and offers similar work hours to an office job. Fourth-year medical students should take electives in gynecologic oncology, medical oncology and surgical oncology if possible. In addition, taking an audition elective in radiation oncology is looked upon favorably by residency programs.
Radiation oncologists work an average of 58.5 hours each week, according to the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. Working as a radiation oncologist can be rewarding because it provides you with the opportunity to save human lives. However, it can also be stressful because almost every patient a radiation oncologist sees is terminally ill.