Dr Colin Lindsay, Specialist Registrar. Equivalent grade is ST5
Brief ‘definition' of specialty

Medical oncology is where cancer care meets academia and novel drug development through clinical trials.

Brief run-down of training programme content and duration

Six months minimum training in chemotherapy-led common cancers: colorectal, breast, and lung. Four months training in other cancer types amenable to systemic therapies: upper gastrointestinal (GI), ovarian, urology etc. There are more opportunities now to consider training in cancers traditionally associated with clinical oncology (i.e. radiotherapy-driven treatment), glioma or head and neck, for example. Clinical training is four years.

Exam requirements

Exit exam, can sit it at any time.

Other requirements

Progress in oncological research is still far too slow. To improve this, we focus on offering clinical trials whenever feasible. There are opportunities and training courses to design your own clinical trials.

Opportunities/expectations for out of programme research

This is almost compulsory; medical oncology is an academic specialty focusing on drug development. Nearly everyone does a PhD, and there are a few excellent laboratories in Scotland (particularly Glasgow) to do this.

A day in the life of a medical oncology Registrar

It genuinely is very variable. An average day might involve a clinic, some ward work, prescribing a few chemos, recruiting a patient to a clinical trial, catching up with your lunch while you are driving between hospitals,  breaking bad news, and trying to squeeze in any extracurricular research between other tasks and responsibilities.

Pros and Cons of working in this specialty


  • Patients are lovely in this specialty
  • I would recommend medical oncology to anyone who wants to be ambitious with their brain rather than their hands: we don't really do any procedures. As there is so much money in cancer research, the opportunities are unparalleled compared to many other specialties, including chances to attend international meetings relatively often


  • I don't think it is the best specialty for someone who likes constant organisation as it can be chaotic at times. A bit like the old surgical Junior House Doctor (JHO) job. Also, it almost goes without saying that you need to be prepared for the morbid side
How this specialty differs to others and what made me choose it
  • The patients never fail to surprise you. Even in the most life-testing circumstance, they are always lovely and appreciate anything you do. Your communication skills are really put to the test and it can be really rewarding
  • As 90% of your work in the NHS will be routine for the next 30 years, medical oncology is the main specialty to offer financial opportunities to pursue academia and keep your brain active
  • There are lots of oncologists, many of whom you don't really meet at medical school or even as a medical Senior House Doctor (SHO). It's therefore great socially, you always find colleagues who you have things in common with
Tips for success in applying for this specialty
  • The best thing is to try and do an SHO rotation which includes oncology
  • Then work hard and make sure you attend the clinics when you can
More information

The Association of Cancer Physicians

National Cancer Institute