For many students, making decisions about their future career is a challenge. I recently read some fascinating research indicating most of today’s students, more commonly known as Millennials, desire a sense of meaning in their career and are seeking more than just job security and a good salary.
I encourage them to consider a career in one of the many facets of oncology. Oncology, like any field, has a normal cycle of young professionals entering the field and seasoned professionals retiring; however, the numbers are troublesome.
The State of Cancer Care in America: 2014, a report by the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO), reports that one in five oncologists is 64 years or older. The number of new oncologists is expected to increase only 28 percent between now and 2025, creating a significant shortage of oncologists. The statistics for nursing and allied health professionals are equally concerning.
These shortages are set against the backdrop of an aging U.S. population. As the population ages, their cancer risks also increase. The same ASCO report projects that the number of new cancer diagnoses will increase by 42 percent by 2025. Simply stated, we have an increasing number of cancer patients but a decreasing number of medical professionals to treat them. The recent trend in STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) is helping to encourage students to enter these fields.
Medicine requires—and benefits from—diverse personalities with a common sense of purpose. The range of choices in medicine means there is a career path for virtually everyone. As a network of physicians, Texas Oncology is doing its part to make sure that the future of medicine is strong and that quality cancer care is available in a community-based setting to provide patients with leading-edge treatment near the critical support of family and friends.
What do today’s students have to do with tomorrow’s need for doctors and other healthcare professionals? Plenty. Bright, curious students have an abundance of options in the healthcare field and within the oncology specialty. They can train to become a medical or radiation oncologist, or a subspecialist within oncology. What’s more, they have the opportunity to benefit patients for years to come through research and clinical trials that identify new, more effective treatments.
For those with a propensity toward nursing, an oncology certified nurse brings special training in oncology to specifically care for cancer patients. Many other clinical professionals, such as radiation therapists, are also needed to provide patients with the care they need. Perhaps a student has an interest in both medicine and physics. Perfect. Medical physicists combine both areas. After their academic study, all of these options have hands-on training. For example, Texas Oncology has a medical physicist residency training program.
Whether you are a parent or a student’s mentor, encourage students to explore one of the many aspects of medicine, including oncology. I am confident that it is a decision that will reward them in many ways. I look forward to welcoming them as colleagues.
by Alvaro Restrepo, MD