The Importance of Selecting a Board-Certified Radiation Oncologist

Posted on March 18, 2019 in Oncology

Written by Dr. Corso

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When someone is looking for a physician, regardless of the type of specialty, they may be overwhelmed with their options. One of the credentials people might notice is that some doctors are “board certified.” Many times, patients gloss over this certification, assuming that all doctors are board certified; however, this is not the case.

In order for someone to call themselves a physician, they need to have attended medical school and have earned either a medical degree or a doctorate of osteopathic medicine. This is either an MD or a DO, respectively. However, in order for someone to be board-certified, they need to have completed residency in a subspecialty of medicine and have passed a challenging set of exams which are organized by the national board for their specific subspecialty in order to demonstrate a high level of technical and clinical competency.

In radiation oncology, the board examination process is spread out over 2 years. It comprises 3 separate written exams and one final oral examination. This is after completing a 1-year internship and 4 years of residency. The exams are developed by the American Board of Radiology (ABR) and include:

  • Medical Physics for Radiation Oncology
  • Radiation and Cancer Biology
  • Clinical Radiation Oncology written exam
  • Clinical Radiation Oncology oral exam

A board-certified radiation oncologist has successfully passed these exams and has demonstrated mastery of all aspects of the field. A board-eligible radiation oncologist has completed residency and has passed most of the exams, but is still waiting to take the oral examination. This designation is common for physicians in their first year of practice. But why does this board certification matter?

A General Medical Degree Doesn’t Really Indicate a Physician’s Level of Training

While every doctor attended medical school and had to pass generic licensing exams, it is difficult to tell from a general medical degree whether someone has been licensed to practice pediatrics, internal medicine, radiation oncology or even surgery.  In medical school, someone may only spend eight weeks learning pediatrics or may get no experience in radiation oncology. This is why residency is important. In residency, people spend several years training in their chosen specialty. Passing a board exam is a reflection of what someone has learned in residency. This is analogous to a situation where an auto mechanic may be able to work on many different types of vehicles after graduating from a technical institute, but in order to demonstrate a higher level of mastery, they can become certified by specific auto manufacturers or by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.

A Real World Example Where Board-Certification May Matter

Recently, there has been an increase in radiation treatments being delivered by dermatologists and other doctors to treat skin cancers or other benign skin conditions such as keloids, particularly in the greater-Charlotte area. These treatments are legal for use by doctors who are not board certified in radiation therapy because the machines are considered “superficial” and do not penetrate deeply into the body. When operated by someone with inadequate training, this could lead to unexpected side effects or to the cancer returning when it could have been cured with more advanced equipment and treatment planning.

Problems like this can often be avoided with the appropriate equipment, training, and supervision of non-physician staff. Therefore, it is our opinion that any type of radiation delivered to treat cancer, superficial or otherwise, should be delivered by a board-certified, or board-eligible radiation oncologist.  If you are receiving radiation treatment of any type for cancer, ask if your supervising doctor is board-certified in radiation oncology.

Certification Must be Maintained

Once someone graduates from medical school and finishes their residency, it can be challenging to stay up-to-date on the latest research. Particularly with a disease such as cancer, research is evolving every day. Patients deserve to see a medical professional who has stayed up to date, and been involved with the latest research.

In radiation oncology, maintenance of certification involves 4 key components:

  • Part 1: Professionalism and Professional Standing
  • Part 2: Lifelong Learning and Self-Assessment
  • Part 3: Assessment of Knowledge, Judgment, and Skills
  • Part 4: Improvement in Medical Practice

The process involves maintaining state licensure, continuing medical education through attending lectures or conferences in the chosen specialty, completing online learning modules, passing tests, and participating in quality improvement projects. This process ensures that those who maintain certification continue to demonstrate their commitment to high quality care and staying up to date with the latest advancements in the field.

Trust the Board-Certified Doctors at Southeast Radiation Oncology Group (SERO)

Clearly, selecting a board-certified doctor is of crucial importance. Patients should look for doctors who are board-certified because this is a reflection of their clinical excellence and commitment to the latest diagnostic and treatment recommendations of their chosen specialty. Make sure that you and your loved ones seek out care from a board-certified or board-eligible radiation oncologist to ensure you are receiving the most appropriate care for your cancer.

SERO is home to over 30 cancer doctors, practicing radiation oncology across 20 locations in the Charlotte metro area. Our board-certified physicians are members of organizations such as American Society for Radiation Oncology, Society of Neuro-Oncology, American Society of Clinical Oncology and more.