Background image

Medical Education
Medical Student Education

Career Information: Radiation Oncology

Specialty: Radiation Oncology
Completed by: Steve Braunstein and Daphne Haas-Kogan
Date completed/updated: February 2014

  1. What can students do in the 1st and 2nd years to explore and/or prepare for this career?
    As radiation oncology generally is not highlighted as part of the core preclinical curriculum, students should seek out opportunities to spend time within the radiation oncology department. This may be most easily accomplished by shadowing one of the attending physicians or residents within the department over the course of a few days or weeks or choosing an LCE instructor within the Radiation Oncology Department.
  2. What common variations exist in the length/content of residency programs for this career?
    U.S. radiation oncology residency training programs currently consist of one year of internal medicine, surgical, or transitional internship, followed by four years of radiation oncology specific training. Residency training generally is structured by rotations within the various anatomic subsites (Breast, GU, CNS, Peds, etc.) every few months, with several months of elective time set aside for research and rotations within related departments such as radiology and medical oncology.What common variations exist in this career after training? Most graduating residents will begin careers as attending physicians in either academics or private practice. There are some 1-2 year fellowships in select areas of radiation oncology including pediatrics, stereotactic radiotherapy, proton therapy, and brachytherapy, for example.
  3. What common variations exist in this career after training?
    After training, careers encompass full-time lab-based positions, academic positions, and positions in private practice.
  4. What is a typical work day for someone in this field?
    An 8-10 hour workday is standard and may involve new patient consultations, follow up clinic, tumor boards, treatment planning, quality and safety rounds, special procedures in the operating room, and care of patients currently receiving radiotherapy treatment, as well as teaching and research in the academic setting.
  5. What is the culture of this career?  
    The culture is highly collegial as care of cancer patients is fundamentally interdisciplinary, typified by coordination and collaboration among members of a large treatment team including radiation oncologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, radiologists, nurses, therapists, physicists, and dosimetrists.
  6. How compatible is this career with raising a family? How is this different for men and women?
    The field is highly compatible with family life. The field is largely practiced in an ambulatory clinic setting with time available for family and professional development outside of the structure clinic workweek.
  7. What are the most important qualities or character traits for a person in this field?
    The core character traits of successful and content radiation oncologists do not differ from other physicians—compassion, thoughtfulness, diligence, meticulousness, and approachability are all important qualities. One does not need to have an affinity for physics to thrive in this field, although many members of the field are attracted to ever-evolving technological components of radiotherapy delivery.
  8. How competitive are the residency programs in this field?
    Residency programs in radiation oncology are highly competitive.
  9. How competitive is the job market after residency?
    The job market is favorable for both academic and private practice careers. Job applicants should be flexible as to the particular disease subsite(s) focus upon initially entering the job market.
  10. What programs have been popular among UCSF applicants, or how should applicants go about considering programs?
    Fourth year medical student should participate in the radiation oncology clerkship both at UCSF and potentially one or two other academic center to gain perspective on potential residency programs.
  11. What resources (eg, websites, books, professional groups) would you recommend for students interested in learning more about this field?
    The Association of Residents in Radiation Oncology (ARRO), as part of the American Society of Therapeutic Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), has resources for medical students wishing to learn about the field at
  12. How important is each the following for admission to a competitive program?

     Very ImportantSomewhat ImportantNot ImportantComments
    volunteer work
    Honors in third yearx