Medical Student Knowledge of Oncology and Related Disciplines: a Targeted Needs Assessment

J Cancer Educ. 2016 Sep;31(3):529-32. doi: 10.1007/s13187-015-0876-2.


Despite increasing numbers of cancer survivors, non-oncology physicians report discomfort and little training regarding oncologic and survivorship care. This pilot study assesses medical student comfort with medical oncology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, hospice/palliative medicine, and survivorship care. A survey was developed with input from specialists in various fields of oncologic care at a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. The survey included respondent demographics, reports of experience with oncology, comfort ratings with oncologic care, and five clinical vignettes. Responses were yes/no, multiple choice, Likert scale, or free response. The survey was distributed via email to medical students (MS1-4) at two US medical schools. The 105 respondents were 34 MS1s (32 %), 15 MS2s and MD/PhDs (14 %), 26 MS3s (25 %), and 30 MS4s (29 %). Medical oncology, surgical oncology, and hospice/palliative medicine demonstrated a significant trend for increased comfort from MS1 to MS4, but radiation oncology and survivorship care did not. MS3s and MS4s reported the least experience with survivorship care and radiation oncology. In the clinical vignettes, students performed the worst on the long-term chemotherapy toxicity and hospice/palliative medicine questions. Medical students report learning about components of oncologic care, but lack overall comfort with oncologic care. Medical students also fail to develop an increased self-assessed level of comfort with radiation oncology and survivorship care. These pilot results support development of a formalized multidisciplinary medical school oncology curriculum at these two institutions. An expanded national survey is being developed to confirm these preliminary findings.

Keywords: Medical oncology; Palliative care; Radiation oncology; Surgery; Survivorship; Undergraduate medical education.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Humans
  • Medical Oncology / education*
  • Needs Assessment*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Students, Medical / psychology*