Hematologist (Oncologist)

Bodies need blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients to cells. Blood is also relied upon in bodies to fight infection and diseases as well as remove waste. Red and white blood cells, plasma, and platelet flow through over 60,000 miles of veins and arteries working hard to keep the body working as it should.

But what happens when something in the blood isn’t working correctly? It can lead to a variety of disorders such as blood clots, leukemia, and anemia. All of these disorders (and more) are diagnosed, managed, and treated by hematologists. Because so many of the disorders hematologists treat are cancers, these doctors are often designated as hematologist oncologists.

Hematologists are doctors of medicine (MD), doctors of osteopathic medicine (DO), physician assistants (PA), or nurse practitioners (NP) who have received specialized training in how to treat benign (noncancerous) and malignant (cancerous) blood disorders.

Most hematologists specialize in either adult or pediatric patients and work in clinics, laboratories, or hospitals. Job duties include meeting with patients, ordering, tests, reading results, making diagnoses, and writing treatment plans. Other job duties may include conducting research or working with clinical trials on new treatments for blood disorders.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track hematologists specifically, it projects a 7 percent increase in jobs for physicians and surgeons between 2018 and 2028. This increasing demand is largely due to an aging population.

Continue reading to discover more about this fascinating career including education necessary, what certifications are required, and top programs to gain entry into the field.

Hematologist Specializations & Degree Types

Hematology is a subspecialty of internal medicine and hematologists have typically earned a doctor of medicine (MD), a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO), or a degree to become a physician assistant (PA) or a nurse practitioner (NP). The specialized training to work as a hematologist is obtained primarily through residencies or fellowships, although there are some specialized hematology oncology programs as well. There are also programs that focus on pediatric hematology for those interested in working with children and teens.

Admissions Requirements for Hematologist Programs

Admission to hematologist programs, residencies, and fellowships is extremely competitive. Nurse practitioner programs require applicants to already be a registered nurse with at least a bachelor’s degree. Residencies and fellowships for MDs and ODs require applicants to have completed medical school.

Matching for the residencies is often done electronically through the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP). Programs consider a number of factors including diversity, medical school grades, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and an in-person interview.

Hematologist Program Accreditation

Accreditation for hematology programs is important because it guarantees a minimum quality of education:

  • For MDs and DOs, students should ensure the program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).
  • Those seeking an NP degree should look for accreditation either from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
  • Finally, those seeking education as a PA should find programs accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physical Assistant (ARC-PA).

On-Campus Hematology Fellowship & Degree Programs

Most hematologists obtain their specialized education through fellowships or residencies. Nurse practitioners in this field are not as common and typically have completed specialized education in oncology. Below is a list of a variety of programs for entering this field, including paid fellowships and nurse practitioner programs.

Yale School of Medicine (Fellowship)

Graduates of the Yale Medical Oncology-Hematology Fellowship Program are prepared for work in hematology and oncology in either clinics or in medical research. Throughout the program, fellows have the opportunity to work in a variety of clinics and with diverse populations. Routine conferences, both as a cohort and with other doctors at the hospital, provide fellows the opportunity to hone skills on how to critically evaluate new research as well as stay abreast of the newest trends in the field.

The first 18 months of this three-year program are dedicated to clinical training, while the second 18 months focus on clinical research. Through the entire fellowship, participants have dedicated mentors who help them acquire the necessary knowledge to work in this field as physicians or researchers. Participants in this program receive a monthly salary.

  • Location: New Haven, CT
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)
  • Tuition: Paid fellowship

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

The Johns Hopkins Hematology & Medical Oncology Fellowship is one of the top programs in the country. Housed in The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, this program gives fellows unparalleled education and training. Most students pursue a dual-track, however, options to just focus on oncology or hematology are also available. Only ten fellows are accepted into the oncology track and two into the hematology track each year. Graduates are eligible for single or dual certification in oncology and hematology, depending on the chosen course of study.

This program is completed in three years and begins with 12 months of single board training. The subsequent two years are spent in mentored academic research or, for those pursuing a dual certification, divided between clinical training and research.

Students have the opportunity to complete their clinical rotations and research in specialized areas such as the Burke Leukemia Service, the Santos Bone Marrow Transplant Service, or the Hematologic Malignancies Continuity Clinic, to name a few. This is a paid fellowship that is completed upon finishing medical school.

  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)
  • Tuition: Paid fellowship

Columbia University School of Nursing

Nurses who hold at least a bachelor’s degree can enroll in the oncology nurse practitioner program at Columbia’s School of Nursing. While this program primarily focuses on cancer, students who complete their studies can be eligible to take the exam for certification as a Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON) by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC).

This program requires students to choose between pediatrics or adult oncology before they begin their studies. Required coursework includes cancer symptom management, principles and practice of oncology, and a practicum. Graduates will have the necessary skill to diagnose, treat, and manage a variety of common cancers.

  • Location: New York NY
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $64,230 per year

Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science

Only two candidates are accepted into Mayo Clinic’s College of Medicine and Science’s Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant Hematology Fellowship. This 12-month prestigious paid fellowship prepares nurse practitioners or physician assistants to enter the field of hematology. Graduates of this program have the necessary skill to identify, diagnose, and treat a variety of hematology disorders.

Applicants to this program must have already earned a master’s degree and be practicing nurse practitioners or physician assistants. While the bulk of the training is hands-on clinical work there are additional didactic responsibilities as well as clinical rotations that fellows are responsible for fulfilling. Additionally, there are four hours every other week dedicated to research studies so fellows can also hone their research skills.

  • Location: Rochester, MN
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: Paid fellowship

Online or Hybrid Hematologist Degree Programs

Due to the hands-on nature of obtaining a medical degree and completing a residency or fellowship, there are no online or hybrid programs for hematology.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Hematologist?

After high school, it takes at least eight years of additional education and three years of residency or a fellowship to become a board-certified internal medicine doctor in hematology oncology. Those pursuing hematology as a nurse practitioner will typically complete five to six years of education post high school.

How To Become a Hematologist – Step-by-Step Guide

These are the steps to become a hematologist oncologist MD or DO. A career as an NP or PA hematologist oncologist has fewer steps.

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

The first step is to have graduated from high school or obtained a GED since it is a requirement for most bachelor’s degree programs. Students who wish to pursue a medical career should focus on classes such as health, biology, psychology, and chemistry. Advanced classes are also recommended as they can help with college applicants or even help students obtain college credit prior to graduating high school.

Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

A bachelor’s degree is necessary to apply for medical school. Typical majors include biology, psychology, chemistry, health sciences, and pre-med. Since medical school is very competitive, students should ensure they earn excellent grades and complete internships or job shadows to improve their chance of admission to a top-tier program.

Step 3: Pass the MCAT Exam (Optional, Timeline Varies)

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) used to be required to attend medical school; however, there are more and more schools that do not require this test. Prospective applicants typically take the exam in the spring of their junior year of college in order to have plenty of time to submit applications or retake the test, if necessary.

Step 4: Apply for Medical School (Timeline Varies)

Applying for medical school is an intensive process. Students begin selecting schools and submitting documents in the spring of their junior year of college. Many medical school application deadlines are in the early fall. Applicants will frequently have to travel for on-campus interviews prior to being offered admission. Most of the application process is done online through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS).

Step 5: Attend Medical School (Four Years)

Medical school takes four years to complete and is intensive. Typically the first two years are spent in lectures and lab learning how to be a doctor. The last two years are for clinical experience and students spend their time on rotation in a variety of medical settings. Students interested in hematology oncology can look for schools that offer rotations in those specialties.

Step 6: Pass Parts I and II of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) (Timelines Vary)

Prior to finishing medical school, and before applying for residency) students must pass the first two parts of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This demonstrates competency in diagnoses, basic medical principles, and disease development.

Step 7: Apply for a Hematology-Oncology Residency (During Medical School)

During the final year of medical school, students apply for residency. This process is managed online through the National Resident Matching Program (also known as The Match). There are over 150 hematology oncology residencies across the US so students have a wide variety of places to chose from. Most programs take only a handful of residents each year.

Step 8: Complete Residency Requirements (Three Years)

Residency is the final training for a doctor and is often specialized. These programs take three years to complete and involve both clinical practice and research. This is when doctors learn the necessary skills to be hematologist oncologists.

Step 9: Pass Part III of United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) (Timelines Vary)

Upon completion of medical school and residency, doctors must pass the last part of the USMLE. Passing this portion of the exam demonstrates a doctor’s ability to practice medicine safely.

Step 10: Obtain State Licensure (Timelines Vary)

All states require doctors to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state but typically include passing an exam (either a state-specific one or the USMLE), residency, and medical school. Prospective applicants should check with their state boards to ensure they meet all the requirements.

Step 11: Take the Exam to Become Board Certified (Timelines Vary)

Hematologist oncologists are board-certified through the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM). In addition to meeting the requirements to be certified in internal medicine, hematologist oncologists must earn the Hematology Certificate. Requirements for this certificate include required education and residency in this subspeciality and passing the Hematology Certification Exam.

What Do Hematologists Do?

Hematologists are physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants who specialize in treating blood disorders. They work in a variety of settings including clinics, laboratories, and hospitals. Day-to-day job duties include:

  • Meeting with patients to gather patient and history and perform a physical examination
  • Ordering tests to gather data to diagnose a patient
  • Assigning official diagnoses to a patient’s blood disorder
  • Prescribing a course of treatment including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, blood transfusions, and ablation
  • Collecting bone marrow, platelets, plasma, or blood for donation
  • Monitoring current patients’ conditions and ordering the necessary test to determine how they are responding
  • Assisting with clinical studies related to blood disorders by administering treatments or gathering data
  • Researching blood disorders in a lab to determine new treatments
  • Consulting and coordinating with other medical providers to provide holistic patient care

Hematologist Certifications & Licensure

All doctors, physicians assistants, and nurse practitioners are required to be licensed in the state in which they practice. Licensing is done on a state by state basis so applicants should check with their local board to ensure they meet all of the requirements.

Certification for hematologists is not mandatory although it is required by most employers and is standard in the industry. Hematologists who have earned an MD or DO become board certified in internal medicine through ABIM and subsequently earn a Hematology Certificate by meeting education, residency, and testing requirements.

Nurse practitioners are certified by a number of different organizations and requirements for certification may be dictated by state nursing boards. Hematology nurse practitioners typically earn additional certifications such as the Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP) or Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON) both from the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC).

How Much Do Hematologists Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), hematologists with an MD or DO are classified as physicians and surgeons. The 390,680 physicians and surgeons in the United States earned an average annual salary of $203,450 with the following percentiles (BLS May 2019):

  • 10th percentile: $60,910
  • 25th percentile: $112,210
  • 50th percentile: (median) $206,500
  • 75th percentile: Not available
  • 90th percentile: Not available

Note: The BLS does not provide wage estimates above $208,000 per year.

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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