Updated: February 17, 2010

Career Guidance Handbook
Radiation Oncology

Match Process: Majority but not all programs are in the regular Match, Separate Preliminary Year required.

Program Director: Jeffrey V. Kuo, M.D., UC Irvine Medical Center, Department of Radiation Oncology, Building 23, Room 129, Route 26, 101 The City Drive South, Orange, CA  (714) 456-5508 jvkuo@uci.edu

Career Specialty Advisor: Same as Above

Residency Coordinator: Tanya Tran, UC Irvine Medical Center, Department of Radiation Oncology, Building 23, Room 129, Route 26, 101 The City Drive South, Orange, CA  (714) 456-5508

List the fourth year elective courses you feel are most helpful to a student considering your specialty.

  1. Because radiation oncology involves working with patients with cancer involving any areas of the body, clinical electives in gynecologic oncology, medical oncology, surgical oncology, neurosurgery, etc. would be useful.
  2. Radiation Oncology "audition electives" in departments which are seriously being considered by the student for residency training are considered very helpful by most students and residency program directors so that one can become acquainted with the other.
  3. Optional, but probably helpful, are research elective in radiation oncology or a related field like radiation biology or physics.

What are the most important characteristics a student should evaluate in a residency program in your discipline?

  1. Students should evaluate the number and breadth of cases seen during training and the kinds of technology available for training.
  2. Students seriously considering careers in radiation oncology research should evaluate the research infrastructure and opportunities available to support resident research.  In particular, faculty-research mentoring can be decisive for future career opportunities.

What are the pros of a career in your specialty?

  1. Almost exclusively cancer related clinical and scientific work.
  2. Most radiation oncologists in smaller practice settings do not specialize in a particular disease system, but work in all areas of the body with the full range of oncology specialists (Gyn-Onc, Med Onc, Nuerosurgery, etc)
  3. Close relationship between clinical work and the technological and scientific advances and research in the field
  4. Radiation oncology is a procedure-based practice, but depends upon face-to-face patient interaction.

What are the cons of a career in your specialty?

  1. Radiation Oncology has become a highly technologized field highly dependent upon expensive capital equipment which makes keeping up with the latest advances difficult in some practice settings.
  2. The reliance upon technology will probably result in the further mechanization and technolization of what is currently a primarily clinical "hands on" field.
  3. Potential stigma associated with radiation.
  4. Individual practices depend upon referrals from other specialists.

How long is the training in your specialty and, in general, how vigorous?
Four years residency after one year of internship.  Very few radiation oncologists do fellowships.

What is the lifestyle experience in your specialty?

  1. Regular hours (mostly)
  2. No in-house call
  3. Majority of weekends are free
  4. Radiation oncology residencies have a 100% compliance rate with the 80 hour work week limits.

How competitive are training programs in your specialty?  What kind of record would a student realistically need to match? Training programs vary in competitiveness.  The past two years have seen a nationwide resurgence of interest among medical students.  At UC Irvine the number of very competitive applications has increased from three dozen in 1997-98 to over 150 in 2002.  Only about 1/3 of applicants for the 2002 Match found positions.

Which disciplines should letters of recommendations come from?

  1. Program directors have come to expect at least one audition elective in clinical radiation oncology with two to three letters from radiation oncology faculty.  In addition, many competitive applicants have done some radiation oncology related research -- basic science or clinical projects.
  2. A record of strong clinical aptitude is helpful and can be established by grades, scores, and letters from Internal Medicine, Surgery, or Obstetrics & Gynecology.
  3. Applicants applying after graduation from medical school (i.e. as interns or residents) will be expected to arrange for letters of reference from their internship or residency program director(s) in addition to whomever else will be providing references.

Should students approach faculty in the first and second year of medical school to do research and for letters of recommendation?
An early record of interest, enthusiasm, and experience is quite helpful.

Will research in this field improve changes for obtaining residency?
Clinical or basic science research of any kind but particularly in radiation oncology or general oncology related fields demonstrates not only interest and enthusiasm but initiative and resourcefulness.  Research resulting in publishable or published findings is often considered to show aptitude for an academic career.  Though by no means mandatory, research experience is considered desirable.

If research is beneficial, what is the minimum length of time to obtain a meaningful experience? The amount of time necessary for a meaningful experience will vary according to the research laboratory's infrastructure, the organizational abilities of the research preceptor and the aptitude of the student, one should expect a minimum of a month or several months or longer.

Is it beneficial in obtaining residency in this field to complete externships? Externships many of which are "audition electives" are very useful in residency selection.  Applicants can become acquainted with potential choices for residency training and vice versa.

Is there a benefit to completing more than one externship in this field? Though it isn't clear whether doing more externships of shorter duration (e.g. two weeks) versus fewer externships of longer duration (e.g. four weeks) is more helpful, it seems the practice that many students are doing more externships than has been usual in the past.

Is it important for the USMLE Step 2 scores to be available for review?
Program directors probably like to have USMLE Step 2 scores for review at the time of residency application but don't require it. Oftentimes if the Step 1 scores are high, the Step 2 scores can be deferred.