by Herbert Wohl M.D., and Robert Miller, M.D.
Oncologists are specialists in the study and practice of cancer medicine The word onkos in Greek, means mass or tumor, hence the word oncology. Hematologists specialize in disorders of the blood. There is considerable overlap in these two specialties, as both types of physicians care for patients with malignant disorders such as leukemia and lymphomas; therefore both types of specialists need to be intimately familiar with the treatments required, such as chemotherapy.
Currently, most physicians specializing in these areas care for patients with both malignant and non-malignant disorders. Indeed, training programs in many medical centers combine training for these specialties, although they are separate Board examinations as discussed below.
What training is required for certification in these specialties?
The training to achieve Board certification is long and difficult, and comprises the following steps:
In order to enter medical school, candidates must have obtained a Bachelors degree at a recognized college or university.
2. Medical School
In the U.S., this is a four-year program leading to an M.D. degree. The first two years of medical school consist of basic courses such as anatomy, physiology and biochemistry. The last two years consist of clinical training in various disciplines, such as surgery and internal medicine.
Following medical school, most doctors complete one year of training in either medicine or surgery. Competition for internship is great at the most prestigious institutions, but training is similar at all. During this year, physicians decide whether to continue their training in a residency program leading to a specialty ( e.g. Internal Medicine, General Surgery, Pediatrics, Obstetrics, etc.) or to enter practice immediately.
This 2 to 4 year program of training is generally devoted to a specialty such as those listed above. The term "resident" indicates that the physician spends much time at the hospital, often working 60-80 hours per week or more. During this period, most also complete examinations for a State license. In order to proceed on to a sub-specialty training in Hematology/Oncology, physicians must first complete a three-year residency in Internal Medicine and then pass the qualifying examinations administered by the ABIM, the governing body in the U.S., which oversees training programs and certifications in Internal Medicine and it's subspecialties.
Having completed the above training those physicians wishing certification in the sub-specialties of Hematology or Oncology must then successfully complete an accredited program in one or both of those sub-specialties, averaging 2-4 years. They then must pass the examination administered by the ABIM (American Board of Internal Medicine) for certification in Hematology and Oncology. A "board-eligible" specialist has qualified to take the exam, but has not yet passed it. A "board-certified" specialist has successfully passed the exam.
It should be noted that foreign medical school graduates wishing to enter the post-M.D. training programs in this country, must first have their medical school training certified to be sure it meets the U.S. standards, and must pass qualifying examinations before being allowed to enter training programs.