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Life savers

education Updated: Jan 17, 2012 15:45 IST

The lowdown
Oncology is the study of cancer, a disease characterised by abnormal cell growth in the body. Oncology’s sub-specialities include surgical oncology, medical oncology and radiation oncology. A medical oncologist provides systemic therapy such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapies, and bone marrow transplants. According to a WHO India report, by 2020, the developing world is likely to have 70% of the projected 20 million cancer-stricken patients globally. There are, however, far fewer oncologists in India than required, especially for surgical and medical (involving therapy such as chemotherapy) treatment. As an oncologist, you will need to help a patient deal with the emotional upheaval once the cancer has been detected and the patient made aware of it. At times, patients may show you various reports from other systems of medicine, such as ayurveda, and you need to remain calm. Inter-personal skills are as crucial as medical expertise

An average workday of a medical oncologist:
8.30am: Reach hospital. Attend tumour board meeting (with surgical and radiation oncologists, a gynaecologist, a pathologist, etc)
9.30am: Go for ward rounds
10.30am: Meet patients in the OPD
3pm: Lunch
5pm: Evening round in wards
6.30pm: Leave for the day

The payoff
In the government sector, a surgical/medical oncologist could earn Rs 30,000 a month while a radiation oncologist may get R25,000 a month. Higher in the hierarchy, the take-home salaries will be Rs 90,000 and Rs 80,000 a month. Packages vary in the private sector
A fresher oncologist may make Rs 60,000 to Rs 2 lakh a month (in a good institution)

* Fully equipped and trained to ensure a patient’s comfort – physical and psychological
* Be sensitive, compassionate
* Good inter-personal skills; you will need to help a patient deal with the emotional upheaval once cancer has been detected
* Be a good listener
* Be self-motivated and able to put in a huge effort

Getting there
Study science with physics, chemistry and biology in Class 12. After completing high school, go for an MBBS degree, after which you can do either of these three-year courses: a) MS, followed by a three-year MCh programme, b) MD (medicine/ paediatrics), topped up with a DM (medical oncology) qualification or c) MD in radiotherapy. If you can’t do MS or MD, opt for a DNB (diploma)

Institutes and URLs
Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai
All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi,
Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre, Delhi
Batra Hospital and Medical Research Centre, Delhi,
Gujarat Cancer and Research Institute, Ahmedabad
Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology, Bangalore
Dr Balabhai Nanavati Hospital, Mumbai

Pros and cons
* It is a respected profession
* A very-well paying job
* Patients and their families repose a lot of faith in you
* Training takes time
* There is great deal of satisfaction in treating patients and increasing their life span
* It can be a difficult profession to be in since a fair number of your patients may not survive
* You need keep updating yourself; go for continuing medical education (CME) courses
* Your work may expose you to potentially hazardous machinery and chemicals

With most of the pharmaceutical industry now focusing on oncology, employment prospects are high and are likely to stay that way for a long time Sandeep Batra, associate consultant - medical oncology, Medanta Cancer Institute, New Delhi