An oncologist is a physician specializing in the treatment of cancer. By this definition, you can have a basic science PhD who develops drugs for cancer treatment but is not an oncologist (except for his lab rats). When the drugs or procedures are finally tried in humans, the clinicians are called in. Why? Well, I doubt that even Mme. Curie would’ve felt qualified to plan modern brachytherapy for cervical cancer.
There are all sorts of oncologists. Their qualifications can be checked with the appropriate subspecialty societies that certify them as such. Competent certification verifies all training credentials, a potentially litigious process, and administers board examinations only to those who pass scrutiny. Observership ("hands off"), graduate research fellowships (”lab jobs”), and program interruption aren’t quite the same as completed hands-on clinical instruction. When granted, formal certification implies that the training facilities & program were adequate, that the candidate applies sufficient knowledge to actual cases, & that he is reasonably updated in his field.
Certifying bodies, such as those of the PSMO (Medical Oncology), PROS (Radiation Oncology), also police their ranks. Some other societies function more as interest groups and not as certifying bodies, such as the PSO (Philippine Society of Oncologists). Anyway, these societies are behind all those letters appended to a doc’s name. So many F's. What do they mean?
- Juan de la Cruz, MD, FPSO. Dr de la Cruz passed the basic Medical Boards & is an F (Fellow) of the Philippine Society of Oncologists. He is not necessarily a clinical oncologist. He could even be a pathologist.
- Jose Juan, MD, FACS. At the very least, Dr Juan is certified by an accredited surgical society in any country. The American College of Surgeons does not administer examinations. Better check what he is actually certified for and by whom.
- Crisostomo Ibarra, MD, FPCS, FPSO. A certified surgeon. We can’t tell if he trained for any of the surgical subspecialties but, like many general surgeons, he did join the the Philippine Society of Oncologists.
- Maria Clara, MD, FPCP, FPROS, PhD (Radiation Physics). Dr Clara is clinician-scientist certified for Internal Medicine & Radiation Oncology, with postdoctoral work in radiation physics. Among many other things she is an oncologist.
- Ida Rizal, MD, FPCP, FPSHBT. An internist and hematologist, Dr Rizal is competent with blood-related malignancies like the leukemias too.
- Consolacion Damaso, MD, FPSMO. Dr Damaso is either modest or lazy. She is both a certified medical oncologist and internist-- unless she’s old enough to have escaped the requirement for PCP certification (”grandfather clause”) imposed years ago. Strictly speaking, her credentials are MD, FPCP, FPSMO.
- Pediatric oncologists used to belong to the PSMO when there were but a handful of them, so some senior pediatric oncologists are FPSMO.
Confusing, isn't it?