Working life (clinical oncology)
This page provides useful information on the working week as well as any on-call and other commitments, along with information on who you will work with. The attractions and challenges of the job are also in this section.
"After qualifying from medical school I worked in junior house officer posts (now called foundation training), and was very aware how little I knew. I joined a medical rotation still rather unclear about my future career. I applied for a medical rotation which included palliative care as this interested me but at interview was asked to join a rotation with oncology. The oncology consultant I subsequently worked with encouraged me to consider clinical oncology as a career. I enjoyed looking after sick patients as well as observing radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments. Having started an oncology rotation I was in no doubt that this career would suit my interests - holistic medicine, forming an important relationship with patients and working in teams. I have never regretted this career choice as you are constantly exposed to the latest scientific developments and new ways of working.” - Dr Frances Yuille, Consultant Oncologist Edinburgh
Clinical oncologists often work in specialist cancer hospitals, large teaching hospitals and district general hospitals. There can be some travel between different sites.
Your working day will often start in a multidisciplinary team meeting, where treatment plans are discussed for the day ahead. You might then head for an outpatients’ clinic or see patients on the wards. Clinical oncologists spend a large proportion of their working week in direct contact with patients.
The on-call demand may be around one in eight, although you are not usually called out during the night. You’ll often be asked to provide advice to colleagues over the phone for situations that develop out of hours, such as problems after chemotherapy.
Time must also be spent writing reports for GPs and other doctors, writing up computerised notes and answering emails and enquiries. Consultants usually undertake teaching sessions during the week for junior colleagues.
Research is an integral part of clinical oncology. Consultants are often involved in this, for example by assessing the effectiveness of different cancer treatments and undertaking research to determine how different cancers behave. The running of clinical trials and developing new technologies to benefit patients are also often part of the work.
Clinical oncologists work as part of large multidisciplinary teams within a hospital.
They work with:
- medical oncologists
- cancer and chemotherapy nurse specialists
- clinical radiologists
- medical physicists
- nuclear medicine technologists
- medical students
The work is extremely varied as every patient’s treatment is different. Patients are often highly appreciative of your efforts, making the work very rewarding. You will have the opportunity to restore the quality of patients’ lives and to offer hope at a difficult time. Inevitably not all patients recover, although providing effective palliative care that improves the quality of life is also very rewarding.
Communicating effectively with patients is one of the most important aspects of the job. You’ll be breaking bad news more often than most other doctors, and conducting complex discussions about the benefits and side effects of different treatments. But it’s the direct contact with patients that clinical oncologists often say is the best part of their work.
Working with patients and their families during very difficult times is emotionally demanding. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is therefore vital.
Technical advances in radiotherapy mean that tumours can be isolated with increasing accuracy and reduced damage to other tissue. Major advances in treatment mean that cancer survival rates are increasing, making this an exciting time to work in clinical oncology.
There is often the opportunity to develop and enhance cancer services for patients by working collaboratively with colleagues and undertaking research which ultimately improves clinical outcomes.
Clinical oncologists enjoy close working relationships with a wide range of doctors and other medical professionals, adding to the interest of the work.