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How do I Become a Surgical Oncologist?

D. Jeffress
D. Jeffress

Surgical oncologists conduct delicate procedures to remove cancerous tumors and tissue from the body. Specialists rely on their extensive education and training to accurately identify and eradicate cancer before it becomes widespread. In most countries, a person who wants to become a surgical oncologist needs to attend medical school, participate in a four- to five-year surgical residency program, and complete a two-year oncology fellowship. In addition, a new surgeon must pass licensing and certification examinations before he or she can practice unsupervised in hospitals and specialty clinics.

An individual who wants to become a surgical oncologist can prepare for medical school by pursuing a four-year bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, or premedical studies. As an undergraduate, a student usually takes several courses in anatomy, physiology, molecular biology, and organic chemistry to learn about how and why cancer affects human cells. Additional classes in statistics, mathematics, and communications are also important to prepare an individual for the administrative and research duties of a surgical oncologist.


A student can begin applying to medical schools in the third or fourth year of a bachelor's degree program. Most schools require prospective students to perform well on national medical college admissions tests to be considered for enrollment. Once a person is accepted, he or she can meet with academic advisers to design a degree plan that will provide the best preparation to become a surgical oncologist. A prospective surgeon usually spends the first half of a medical school program attending lectures and participating in laboratory research. The final two years are generally dedicated to internships at local hospitals and ongoing independent research.

A successful medical school student is awarded a doctor of medicine degree and allowed to pursue a residency position. Most general surgery residency programs last for about five years, during which time a new surgeon has the opportunity to gain firsthand experience under the guidance of established professionals. A beginning resident observes procedures and attends lectures to become familiar with specific hospital policies, procedures, and equipment. He or she eventually gets the chance to participate in surgeries of increasing difficulty throughout the residency program.

After completing a residency, a person who wants to become a surgical oncologist is typically required to enter a specialty fellowship program. Oncology fellowships usually take place in hospitals or cancer centers and take two years to complete. A fellow conducts cancer research and works directly with patients to gain essential knowledge and skills. By passing a final exam, a professional can earn board certification and officially become a surgical oncologist.

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