Specialty Spotlight: Hematology-Oncology and Locum Tenens
Ask anyone who’s ever been diagnosed with leukemia about the team of professionals who cared for them, and they’re sure to praise their hematologist-oncologist.
And the demand for their care may be on the rise.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), there were approximately 12,100 physicians who were providing hematology and oncology care to people with cancer in the United States in 2016. The demand for this specialty is increasing and outpacing the supply of physicians who provide it, according to the American Society of Hematology (ASH) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
In fact, one ASCO study is forecasting a shortage of 2,250 oncologists by 2025, driven in part by retirements, slower growth in the workforce, and a growing number of cancer survivors—and hematology-oncology is included in that shortage.
Choosing a career in hematology-oncology
If you’re a new physician who is drawn to the prospect of working with patients who are facing a challenging diagnosis and possibly long-term treatment, oncology may be a great career path for you. Specialty areas can include medical oncology, surgical oncology, or radiation oncology.
One great choice if you choose to subspecialize in hematology-oncology, which focuses on blood cancers and other blood diseases. After training in internal medicine, you can pursue additional training to put you on this path. According to the American Society of Hematology, you can pursue a fellowship in hematology-oncology to develop the expertise you will need. Other hematology-related fellowships focus on areas such as adult hematology, coagulation, pathology, and pediatric hematology-oncology.
Physicians who subspecialize in hematology-oncology will focus on the diagnosis and treatment of cancers like lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and leukemia, as well as conditions like sickle-cell disease, iron-deficiency anemia, and hemophilia.
Building relationships with patients
Kevin Rakszawski, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology, at the Penn State Cancer Institute, was drawn to hematology-oncology because of its emphasis on the physician-patient relationship.
“You are able to establish a lifelong relationship with your patients, and it’s a relationship built on trust,” says Rakszawski. “It can be challenging to treat these patients, but the level of trust between the physician and patient is really emphasized, and that stood out to me.”
Rakszawski also has firsthand experience in this field, from the other side of the bed rails. As a teenager, he had lymphoma. He knows how important the physician-patient relationship was to his own treatment and recovery, and he was inspired to be able to provide that to others.
Hematology-oncology is also a good choice for those who enjoy professional collaboration, as physicians who specialize in this area work in teams. You may find yourself regularly working with radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, and oncology nurses, among others.
“It ends up being such a tight-knit community,” says Rakszawski.
Locum tenens hematologist opportunities
A hematologist-oncologist may choose to take a part-time or full-time locum tenens assignment.
If interested in going this route, you’ll find that demand for your services and skills is on the rise. And locum tenens opportunities exist both in clinics and in hospital settings, offering you additional choices if you have a preference.
Rakszawski notes that some physicians who thrive on building relationships with patients may find the outpatient setting challenging if the assignment is a short-term one. If staying with one patient throughout his or her treatment is important to you, you might investigate longer-term positions or ask about the possibility of extending your contracts.
Regardless of whether you take a shorter or longer-term assignment, just keep in mind that you’re there to deliver excellent patient care. As a locum tenens hematologist-oncologist, you can still establish a rapport with your patients and build trust, just like you would do in a permanent position.
“Even if you know it’s temporary, I think you have to approach it as if this patient is going to be your patient, life-long,” says Rakszawski.
AMN Healthcare places physicians and advanced practitioners in locum tenens jobs across the U.S.