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Doctors who have completed medical school and internal medicine residencies can pursue fellowships in specific disciplines such as cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology. Those who wish to focus on blood disorders and cancerous tumors apply for hematology oncology fellowships. These fellowships take several years to complete and include clinical contact with patients and laboratory research.
A basic hematology oncology fellowship, which is sponsored by a medical school, typically takes three years, and some doctors add a fourth year of intensive research. Fellowships provide a broad focus on both hematology, which is the study of blood diseases and related organs, such as the spleen; and oncology, which is the study of tumor development. Hematology oncology fellows rotate among different medical departments to gain exposure to the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders and cancers.
As fellows move through the years of a hematology oncology fellowship, they can begin to specialize in one area or another, depending on their interests. Fellows are supervised at all times by board-certified hematologists, oncologists and other specialists related to these fields. Eventually, fellows can choose lab or clinical work as a career path.
In year one of a hematology oncology fellowship, fellows typically meet patients that they will follow throughout the fellowship years. Fellows begin learning about chemotherapy administration and hemopathology, and they might participate in clinical programs focused on gynecologic oncology, pathology and radiation oncology. While rotating through different clinics and labs, hematology oncology fellows also carry out basic research during every year of their programs.
Those serving in a hematology oncology fellowship also attend conferences, usually weekly, to review patient progress. Other weekly meetings cover current research in blood disorders and cancers. Some medical schools offer fellows conference time with experienced specialists, including oncology surgeons, pathologists and radiologists.
Among hematology oncology fellowships, prospective fellows can find programs devoted to pediatric hematology oncology. Fellows in pediatric programs study childhood cancers and blood diseases as well as organ transplantation. These fellows also follow pediatric patients in outpatient oncology clinics and conduct extensive clinical and laboratory research.
By the time fellows approach the end of the third year of a hematology oncology fellowship, they will have determined whether a fourth year of research is necessary for their career goals. If so, they can move on to that fourth year and focus on advanced research techniques. Those who complete their hematology oncology fellowships after three years have a full understanding of blood disorders and tumor development and how such diseases are treated.