Kaimātai Mate Pukupuku
Radiation oncologists provide radiation treatment and management of patients with cancer and other medical conditions.
Trainee radiation oncologists usually earn
$70K-$175K per year
Experienced radiation oncologists usually earn
$175K-$600K per year
Source: Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, 2017
Pay for radiation oncologists varies depending on experience, hours, location and frequency of on-call or emergency cover.
- Trainee radiation oncologists (registrars) usually earn between $70,000 and $175,000 a year.
- Qualified radiation oncologists can earn between $175,000 and $216,000.
- Radiation oncologists working in the private sector earn more than this. Those at the top level can earn up to $600,000.
Source: Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), '2013 to 2016 National DHB Collective Agreement (MECA)', 2017.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Radiation oncologists may do some or all of the following:
- talk to patients about their symptoms and illnesses, and examine them
- study x-rays, images and medical reports
- discuss various treatment options with patients and their families
- plan how to manage the patient's illness
- treat the patient using radiation therapy
- monitor, support and care for patients during and after treatment
- write reports on the treatment of patients for general practitioners and other medical specialists
- teach trainee radiation oncologists
- carry out research.
Skills and knowledge
Radiation oncologists need to have knowledge of:
- cancer and how to treat it
- anatomy and how the human body works
- different diseases and illnesses
- radiation treatments, and how these affect patients
- new research, treatments and practices
- medical ethics and law.
- usually work regular business hours, but may work long hours and be on call
- work in hospitals, clinics and private practices
- work in conditions that may be stressful, as they deal with seriously ill patients
- travel to conferences locally or overseas.
What's the job really like?
Dr Christine Elder
What made you decide on medicine?
"It was the altruistic thing – the idea of helping people. I have no regrets about my decision, but there are certainly tough times. It’s hard seeing people cry when you tell them the diagnosis, but you’ve got to be honest, and at the same time give hope. It’s part of the job.”
What is it like looking after people with cancer?
“People quite often say to me, ‘Oh you look after cancer patients – isn’t that depressing?’ But I’ve always thought cancer is only part of the person; it’s not the whole person and they get on and do other things with their lives.”
The most challenging parts of your job?
“Providing palliative treatment to help relieve symptoms in patients whose cancer is too advanced to treat, and dealing with patients who have other complicating health problems.
"Sometimes lung cancer can be quite a challenge because you’re dealing with a diverse group of people who have often got other illnesses or other smoking-related lung damage, which can impact on what treatment you can use.”
The most exciting part of your job?
“Breast cancer research, I feel really encouraged because it helps guide the treatment of patients in the future."
Radiation oncologists talk about their careers – 4.24 mins. (Video courtesy of Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists)
Dr. Bronwyn King: What I do specifically is oversee the radiation therapy treatment that patients require. I work very closely with a wide range of specialists, including surgeons who have often operated on the patient prior to them seeing me. I work very closely with medical oncologists who are concerned with the chemotherapy or biological therapies that a patient may require, and also I work very closely with radiation therapists and radiation physicists to come up with the best radiation therapy plan for my patient.
Prof. David Ball: If we decide that radiotherapy should be part of their treatment we then recommend the type of treatment and I prescribe it, indicating what dose of radiation, which area to treat.
Dr. Tsien Fua: ...and we also need to explain to patients what the roles of radiotherapy are, what potential toxicities there are and what the possible outcomes are.
Dr. Bronwyn King: Working with cancer patients is a real privilege. Cancer patients are clearly at a very vulnerable point in their lives and they need a great deal of support.
Prof. David Ball: Some people say to me that, gee, working with cancer patients, that must be hard. But we have to remember that nowadays 60 percent of people who get cancer are cured, so for the majority of patients the treatment of their disease is a success story.
Dr. Tsien Fua: A lot of the patients are like you or I – they come from normal, everyday lives as we do, but yet they're faced with a really difficult situation. And I think, in their doctors, they're looking for people who are caring, who can empathise with them, who will listen to them and try to do the best that they can for them in the most professional manner.
Prof. David Ball: I think the attributes that make a good radiation oncologist are the same attributes that make for a good doctor. A good bedside manner, a person that can interact with the patient and put the patient at ease, make the patient feel very comfortable, that they can ask any question.
Dr. Bronwyn King: I think that radiation oncology offers something for almost any personality type or any doctor. One of the great things about the job is the huge variety of work that one can become involved in.
Dr. Tsien Fua: In future radiation oncologists we would like to see people who are keen on research, keen on looking at evidence-based medicine and ways of improving treatments for patients. Someone who enjoys the technicalities of planning treatments and that may be looking at anatomy and working with computers and new technologies to deliver treatment.
Dr. Bronwyn King: I would tell medical students to strongly consider radiation oncology for many reasons, but one of them is that it is possible to have reasonable work-life balance whilst having a very interesting career at the same time.
Dr. Tsien Fua: Some radiation oncologists prefer to be generalised so that they have a broad experience through their career and others choose to sub-specialise in specific areas such as breast, prostrate or lung cancer and that enables them to become experts within the field. You can work in big city centres. We also have a lot of regional centres that offer radiation therapy treatment.
Prof. David Ball: I've been working in radiation oncology for over 35 years and when I began we didn't have CT scans, we didn't have computers that were capable of doing the treatment planning, so much of what we did was based on examination of the patient, simple x-rays, and so there was a lot of guesswork as to where the cancer was.
Dr. Bronwyn King: I started in radiation oncology about 10 years ago, and even if I compare the treatments that I was able to offer 10 years ago to the treatments that I can offer now, I'm so much more impressed by the individualisation of treatment that we can offer today.
Dr. Tsien Fua: Technology is going to really change a lot in the next few years enabling us to target treatments more effectively, and to reduce the burden of side effects for patients.
Dr. Bronwyn King: In addition to that I think the combinations of different chemotherapy agents and biological agents with radiation therapy will continue to improve outcomes for patients.
Prof. David Ball: I'd like to think, it won't happen in my lifetime, that when a patient comes in to me with any form of cancer I can say to them, I'm going to cure your cancer and it's not going to hurt a bit.
To become a radiation oncologist you need to:
- complete the Health Sciences First Year programme at Otago University, or the first year of either the Bachelor of Health Sciences or Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science at Auckland University
- complete a five-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) degree at Otago or Auckland University
- work for two years as a house officer (supervised junior doctor) in a hospital
- complete another five years as a registrar with specialist training and examinations to become a Fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists.
You also need to be registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand.
- University of Otago website - information about the Health Sciences First Year programme
- University of Otago website - information about the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery
- University of Auckland website - information about the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery
- Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists website - information about radiation oncologist training
- Medical Council of New Zealand website - information on gynaecologist/obstetrician training
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include biology, chemistry, English, maths and physics.
Radiation oncologists need to be:
- able to make good decisions, and solve problems
- excellent at analysis and interpretation
- good at managing time
- motivated and disciplined
- able to work well under pressure
- good at communicating and inspiring confidence in others
- understanding of other cultures' attitudes to medical treatment.
Useful experience for radiation oncologists includes:
- work in hospitals or other health-related work, such as in a clinic
- work caring for people.
Radiation oncologists need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses).
Radiation oncologists need to be registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand.
Find out more about training
- Medical Council of New Zealand
- 0800 286 801 - www.mcnz.org.nz
- Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists
- (04) 472 6470 - email@example.com - www.ranzcr.edu.au
What are the chances of getting a job?
Chances of getting work as a radiation oncologist are good due to:
- an ageing population with more health problems
- gaps left as radiation oncologists leave to work overseas.
Radiation oncologists work for public and private hospitals
Radiation oncologists work in public or private hospitals, or a combination of both, and may also work in university medical schools.
- Auckland Doctors, 'Radiation Oncology', accessed 2017, (www.aucklanddoctors.co.nz).
- Health Workforce New Zealand, 'Health of the Health Workforce 2015', February 2016, (www.moh.govt.nz).
- Health Workforce New Zealand, 'Radiation Oncology', January 2017, (www.kiwihealthjobs.com).
- Hedley, K, Dr., director of training for radiation oncology, Auckland region, Careers New Zealand interview, May 2017.
- The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, Faculty of Radiation Oncology, 'The Radiation Oncology Workforce in New Zealand: Projecting Supply and Demand 2012-2022', 21 February 2013, (www.ranzcr.edu.au).
Progression and specialisations
Radiation oncologists may progress to jobs in areas such as:
- teaching trainee radiation oncologists
- clinical director roles
Last updated 2 June 2017