How Do I Become a Radiation Oncologist?

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  • Written By: Clara Kedrek
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2019
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Many people might consider the path to become a radiation oncologist a long one. It requires finishing high school, a four-year undergraduate degree, four years of medical school, a post-graduate clinical year, and a four-year residency training program in radiation oncology. Students who finish these steps are eligible for taking an examination to become a certified practitioner in this field.

A number of educational experiences are required to become a radiation oncologist. Students first need to graduate from high school. Next, four years of undergraduate education are required. Although there are no specific requirements in terms of which major students should pick, at a minimum they need to finish the required classes for applying to medical school, including courses in calculus, physics, molecular biology, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and English literature. Many students might pick physics or biology as a major, as these subjects provide a good foundation for future learning.

The next major step in becoming a radiation oncologist is to finish medical school. Students with an interest in the profession might be able to take clinical rotations in this subject during their third or fourth years of medical school. As radiation oncology is considered to be a competitive specialty, interested medical students typically study hard during medical school in order to obtain good grades and high test scores.


In addition to completing the basic medical school coursework, many students also do scientific research. Performing basic science or clinical research related to radiation oncology can display a student’s intellectual capabilities and interest in the field. Although research is not an absolute requirement for obtaining a residency in radiation oncology, it makes applicants much more attractive to residency programs.

With all of these components complete, students can send in their applications to become radiation oncologists in their fourth year of medical school. Many students apply to dozens of residency programs in order to maximize their chances of being accepted to one of them. Elements of a successful application include excellent medical school grades, high scores on Step 2 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE®), glowing letters of recommendation from clinical faculty, and research experiences in the field.

Students who have applied to become a radiation oncologist typically learn whether or not they are accepted during March of their fourth year of medical school. After medical school, these accepted doctors practice general clinical medicine for one additional year. Options for this include a transitional year program, a preliminary year in internal medicine, or a preliminary year in general surgery. After this year students finally begin subject-specific training in radiation oncology. Most residency programs require finishing four years of clinical radiation oncology training before a doctor is eligible to take a test to become a licensed, certified radiation oncologist.


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