Courageous Careers: Joining the War on Cancer


Fighting the war on cancer demands advanced education, practical experience, and unwavering determination. The exciting world of cancer treatment boasts a cornucopia of opportunities to fit your personal strengths and preferences to a rewarding career that helps bring hope to cancer patients and their families while securing your own future as a respected member of the extended medical community. The following list represents a sampling of such career opportunities.



Primary Care Physician

While the role of primary care physician often is fulfilled by a general practitioner, it can also be fulfilled by an internist, a pediatrician, or a gynecologist. A primary care physician typically serves as the head coach or team leader who coordinates the activities of other medical professionals in meeting the unique needs of each individual patient. Unsurprisingly, being a doctor calls for unusual dedication and hard work. A bachelor’s degree in a science-centered major provides the foundation for four years of medical school, which then lead to at least three years of a medical residency focusing on the practice of primary care.


In addition to meeting the demanding requirements of a general medical education and a chosen specialty such as family medicine, a primary care physician must grow into the difficult and unending task of accurately finding the possible underlying causes of disease in a widely disparate population of patients who may suffer from an array of subtle illnesses. The early symptoms of pancreatic cancer, for example, may be virtually indistinguishable from ordinary back pain or perhaps gradual weight loss stemming from depression. It’s a highly challenging but potentially more emotionally satisfying career than most others, offering a personal connection to patients that is missing in more technical specialties.




Wags have sometimes described the human body as a finicky digestive tube surrounded by support organs such as the heart and brain. All joking aside, the gastrointestinal system is a world in itself, possessing what amounts to its own specialized nervous system. Beginning with the mouth and esophagus, the gastrointestinal system stretches through the stomach, the small intestine, and the large intestine. The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder are actually part of this extended system, and each individual organ—hollow or solid—carries its own burden of potential problems and complications in the treatment of cancer.


Even a stout heart will inevitably fail without a functioning liver, and the otherwise ordinary functions of eating or excretion obviously bear heavily on long-term survival. As a highly trained gastroenterologist, you’ll be dealing daily with the most life-critical functions of the human body, which must soldier on without regard to the stresses and strains of cancer and the treatments intended to destroy the cancer, or at least bring it under control. Gastroenterology isn’t for the faint of heart, requiring a bachelor’s degree in a science-centered major and then four years of medical school before finishing with at least three years of residency and most likely a further challenging three years of fellowship.



Medical Oncologist

A medical oncologist is more directly armed for battle against cancer than most other doctors, often acting as the leader in an interdisciplinary treatment team. Because many malignant, fast-growing tumors erupt from within the gastrointestinal system, this specialty tends to focus heavily on gastrointestinal cancers. Medical oncologists frequently participate in leading-edge research projects and clinical trials of experimental pharmaceuticals and advanced treatment methodologies. As expected, the educational requirements are extensive—beyond graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in a science-centered major and then completing four years of medical school, a successful medical oncologist will typically endure between three to eight hectic years of internship and residency. Spending still more years in a rigorous fellowship is a distinct possibility, especially for prospective research specialists in advanced biotechnology and related fields.


The personal face of cancer treatment for most patients tends to be their medical oncologist. An intense dedication to patient welfare, the ability to work well with others and an appetite for detail mark the most successful practitioners of this specialty.



Anesthesia Technician

The old days of agony as a blood-soaked surgeon hacked at a tumor or crudely stitched up a gaping surgical wound with little or no attention to cleanliness or pain control beyond copious quantities of alcohol are long gone. Clean, modern facilities in developed countries boast remarkably sophisticated equipment devoted to keeping patients as free as possible from pain or excessive discomfort during surgical procedures. Many individuals who pursue a medical career but who prefer a more technical role find the role of anesthesia technician to fit their needs. While a high-school education is the floor for a new trainee, most employees prefer applicants who have obtained an anesthesia technician degree. Certification from the American Society of Anesthesia Technologists and Technicians (ASATT) is voluntary but highly desirable for the broadest scope of potential job offers.


Working well with a team is a must, but direct patient interactions are minimal. Keeping a patient alive and well at the delicate point between life and death calls for meticulous attention to detail and a keen awareness of how critical organs such as the brain and the heart might respond to pharmaceuticals that induce unconsciousness or sleepy sedation. Substantial differences between the responses of individual patients to sedation make this profession best suited to individuals who can react quickly and accurately to unexpected cardiopulmonary events and the instructions of the attending physician.



Registered Nurse

Frequently likened to the indispensable non-commissioned officers who hold together modern armies, registered nurses (RNs) act as the glue that cements together effective cancer-treatment teams. A registered nurse closely monitors patients for medically significant developments, manages and updates patient dossiers, directly assists surgeons in the operating room, dresses wounds and performs other tasks critical to keeping team efforts coordinated and focused on patient needs. It’s possible to begin a career as an RN with an associate degree in nursing or a hospital-sponsored nursing diploma, but a baccalaureate degree of education in nursing typically attracts higher starting salaries and more varied career opportunities.


Demand remains heavy for experienced registered nurses, who often also supervise other nurses. The quality of a patient’s psychological comfort and experiences during cancer treatments typically depends heavily on the competence and kindness of the RN in charge. A fair number of RNs subsequently build on their extensive practical experience with further education to reach the status of a physician assistant or full-fledged physician.



Needless to say, coping with a cancer diagnosis is inherently stressful. Patient reactions can vary enormously, ranging from a stern determination to incessant crying fits. A psychologist who specializes in cancer patients can do much to help these patients cope with the emotional ups and downs of living daily with an uncertain prognosis, painful surgeries, and difficult-to-handle chemotherapy. A bachelor’s degree marks the minimum education required for this profession, but many students go on to earn their master’s or doctoral degrees, which affords higher pay and a wider range of job opportunities.




Cloud Services Engineer

Organizing and coordinating the efforts of dozens or hundreds of skilled medical professionals and other individuals and analyzing the torrents of data from patient care for clues to better treatment options requires massive computational resources. Cloud services engineering, especially at larger enterprises like Cancer Treatment Centers of America, is a demanding and rewarding career for individuals who possess excellent communication skills and who excel at highly technical tasks that require extreme attention to detail. Employers commonly require at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field, but additional expertise in medical terminology and concepts is highly desirable.

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Further Opportunities

Physicians, nurses, specialized medical experts and other vital support personnel draw their ranks from a remarkable spectrum of talented individuals. Younger, aspiring students and older, experienced adults alike continue in droves to hear the clarion call to bring help, healing and hope to cancer patients.


Other popular career paths encompass dietitians, surgical oncologists, dosimetrists, respiratory therapists, radiologic technologists and many more. Today could bring your own decision to join the medical warriors and critical support staffers who bring hope and extended life to patients across the globe.

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