A radiation oncologist deals with the treatment of cancer using radiation therapy. He or she usually works as part of a team, alongside radiation therapists, radiation oncology medical physicists, surgeons and palliative care physicians.
A radiation oncologist’s main job is to assess the severity of a patient’s condition and determine how much radiation he/she patient should receive. This radiation might be made up of electron beams, gamma rays and/or X-rays. To ensure optimum treatment without causing significant health risks, the oncologist must be an expert in assessing each patient’s specific situation and potential for recovery.
At the same time, a radiation oncologist deals with the ‘people side’ of cancer treatment. As well as prescribing radiation doses, the specialist must also communicate with patients, loved ones and carers. While some radiation oncologists decide to spend most of their time in clinics and hospitals, others add a significant research component to their career.
To become a radiation oncologist, it is necessary to first complete a medical degree. There are two ways of doing this. Those who have never studied before usually enrol in a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), which requires 5 to 6 years. Those who have completed an undergraduate degree in any field can take a medical degree, which requires 4 years. Either way, the next step is training in an accredited hospital for a year or longer.
Finally, it is crucial to undertake advanced training in medical oncology, leading to a fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP).
Steps for Becoming a Radiation Oncologist in Australia
Refer to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) for more information.
Each and every doctor practising in Australia, whether trained in Australia or overseas, must register with the Medical Board of Australia (MBA) and with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
A career in radiation oncology is challenging and demanding, yet stimulating and highly rewarding. An exceptional level of knowledge and outstanding expertise are expected. Students graduate with a proven track of record of excellence and are expected to maintain this throughout their career. This involves a willingness to undertake further study and training, as well as a determination to keep up with cutting-edge developments in medicine and technology.
Radiation oncologists must work as part of a team. Managing or curing a cancer patient requires the input of numerous professionals. So the ability to cooperate, share information and collaborate in order to achieve the best outcome is vital.
Most patients requiring the attention of a radiation oncologist are incredibly vulnerable. While many have a high chance of recovery, others must deal with facing a terminal illness. A specialist must be skilled in communicating in a way that is clear yet compassionate. Radiation Oncologists should be willing and able to deliver excellent care to patients, even when they are highly emotional, distressed and anxious.