A veterinary oncologist is a board-certified specialist trained to diagnose and treat animals with cancer.
Yes, cancer can happen to animals in much the same way as it can happen to humans. In fact, cancer is the leading cause of death in both cats and dogs. Learning that their companion animal has developed cancer is one of the most difficult situations a pet owner can face. After all, cancer is a painful medical condition that usually results in the death of a pet. Statistics show that 1 out of 3 dogs and 1 out of 4 cats will most likely develop cancer once they reach 10 years of age. Veterinary healthcare analysts predict that these animal cancer cases are bound to increase with an alarming rate of 45% in the coming years. Fortunately, we have veterinary oncologists who have dedicated their lives to significantly improving remission and cure rates for animals with cancer.
You can be a veterinary oncologist, too.
If you are passionate about enhancing the quality of life of pets with terminal diseases, then read on and find out what you need to do to become a vet oncologist.
Veterinary oncology is the study and treatment of cancer in dogs, cats, ferrets, birds, and other exotic and domestic animals. Many of the technologies used in the treatment and diagnosis of cancer in animals are usually similar with those used for humans.
These treatments include chemotherapy, surgery, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and biological treatments of cancer. The vet oncologist should be able to assess and plan the best treatment for the animal, with evidence-based and compassion-driven recommendations.
Some responsibilities of vet oncologists include, but are not limited to:
• Providing comprehensive evaluation of a pet’s clinical condition
• Determining the appropriate course of treatment
• Providing chemotherapy and immunotherapy services
• Performing biopsy and laboratory blood work procedures
• Interpreting radiographs and ultrasound scans
• Managing chemotherapy side-effects
• Providing emergency medical advice for clients
• Offering grief support and referral for pet owners
Working as a veterinary oncologist, you will oftentimes work with other specialists to coordinate different procedures and treatments.
In this case, you will be part of an invaluable healthcare team who will ensure that the best outcome for each patient is achieved, thus providing much needed hope in the battle against cancer.
To become a veterinary oncologist, aspiring applicants are required to attend a four (4) year veterinary program at a veterinary college accredited by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Admission to these veterinary programs is highly competitive. Students who are eventually admitted to the program spend the first three years taking classes in medicine for clinical pathology, equine medicine, radiobiology, small animal care, neurobiology, diagnostic imaging, and surgery principles.
During their final year, veterinary college students practice supervised hands-on care rotating through the following specialties: anesthesiology, medicine for dairy and beef production, oncology, neurology, surgery, medicine for small animals, ophthalmology, surgery and emergency medical care. Graduates will then be conferred the title of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.
Veterinarians practicing general medicine can go into practice after graduating and passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. For aspiring veterinary oncologists, however, students must complete a three to four year residency where they earn specialized training and practice in preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer in animals. After completing their residency, they are then obligated to become board-certified.
Becoming board certified in veterinary oncology is a rigorous process. This requires at least three additional years of advanced training in oncology after the completion of veterinary school.
Veterinarians wishing to become board certified in oncology must complete a one-year medical and surgical rotating internship, followed by a two to three year oncology residency program.
Furthermore, they are mandated to meet specific training and caseload requirements, and perform research to add to the growth of the veterinary oncology field.
The average salary of a vet oncologist is $75,000 per year. This figure can vary depending on what state they chose to practice their profession, and on what sector of veterinary oncology they wish to work in. Those who choose to work in the field of research and academics tend to have higher salaries compared to their colleagues in private hospitals and clinics. There is very high demand for aspiring veterinary oncologists due to the small number of graduates each year. As the nature of the career is quite challenging, only the very best make it to the top. As a result, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a positive job outlook for all veterinary fields, with a growth rate of 36% that could still potentially expand until the year 2020.
Veterinary oncology is a highly demanding career choice as it requires long hours of academic work, research, and internship training.
On top of that, one must be prepared to face challenges ahead such as witnessing the death of patients and dealing with grief from pet owners who often treat their pets as part of the family.
Ultimately, the rewards seem greater than the hardships that may come along the way. The life of our companion animals is a lot more fragile than we think.
As a veterinary oncologist, knowing that you can have a direct impact in potentially extending a pet’s quality of life is truly inspiring, emotionally-fulfilling, and all worth the effort in the end.