Career Advising

Specialty Choice: Radiation Oncology

Radiation oncology

Radiation oncology is the medical specialty concerned with the generation, conservation, and dissemination of knowledge concerning the causes, prevention, and treatment of cancer with particular emphasis on the role of ionizing radiation. (AAMC Careers in Medicine)

Associated Societies

Quick Facts

The following information comes from the National Resident Matching Program's Charting Outcomes in the Match 2014 (PDF)  based on matched applicants in the United States.    

Advice for MS1 and MS2 Students

Q: What particular activities should first and second year students get involved with who are interested in pursuing this specialty?

Research. Radiation oncology is a very research heavy field. They like to see relevant research and presentations/publications. If you cannot find radiation oncology research, try to do some hematology-oncology research.

Q: Are research experiences important in your specialty?

Not technically required, but applicants in this field have a high number of research experiences compared to others, so research is strongly recommended.

Q: If so, do these need to be specialty specific research experiences?

Any research experience is better than no research experience, but applicants should try to have at least one radiation oncology research experience.

Q: Does class rank matter?

23.6 percent of applicants are in AOA according to NRMP 2014 results. Being in AOA is a very strong advantage when applying to radiation oncology programs.

Advice for MS3 and MS4 Students

Q: When should I ask for letters of recommendation (LORs)?

Ideally you should ask for letters in May but absolutely no later than July, allowing your letter writers adequate time to upload your letter prior to the ERAS application submission date of Sept. 15. Your personal statement and CV should be ready as well as many letter writers will request this in order to write you a strong letter.

Q: How many LORs do you need?

Minimum of three.

Q: Is a letter from a chair required?


Q: Do all letters need to be written by members of this specialty?

No, but shoot for at least two or three within the field, the more the better. One or two letters from attendings/department chairs/program directors at "aways" are also highly recommended.

Q: Do any letters need to be written by external institutions?

Obtain a letter from your away programs.

Q: Does your Step 2 CK score matter?

A high score will make you more competitive.

Q: What electives would you recommend for someone who is interested in pursuing this specialty?

Hematology-oncology. You could create a radiation oncology elective with a local attending. Surgical Oncology, Pathology, Radiology and Palliative Care are other good choices.

Q: Should a student interested in this specialty do away rotations?


Q: If so, how many “aways” do you recommend and when should they be completed?

At least two, and three would be better.

Q: Which month is recommended to take off to interview?

Most interviews are from November through late January. Most take place during December and January. There are only one to two dates for each program and many may overlap, making you choose between programs.

Similar Specialties to Consider

Residency Programs

Available Fellowships

Looking into the Future/Changes in Health Care

In recent years, this approach has become increasingly absorbed with technological advances. This increasing emphasis on technology, together with other important changes in the health-care economic environment, now place the specialty of radiation oncology in a precarious position. New treatment technologies are evolving at a rate unprecedented in radiation therapy, paralleled by improvements in computer hardware and software. These techniques allow assessment of changes in the tumour volume and its location during the course of therapy (interfraction motion) so that re-planning can adjust for such changes in an adaptive radiotherapy process.

If radiation oncologists become simply the guardians of a single therapeutic modality they may find that time marches by and, while the techniques will live on, the specialty may not. (Source: Urbański, 2012)

Additional Information

See the Career Essentials Pilot Page regarding specialty specific advice for more detailed information and resources.


Last edited on 10/04/2016.