Journal of Cancer Education

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 621–625 | Cite as

Oncology Education in Medical Schools: Towards an Approach that Reflects Australia’s Health Care Needs



Cancer has recently overtaken heart disease to become the number 1 cause of mortality both globally and in Australia. As such, adequate oncology education must be an integral component of medical school if students are to achieve learning outcomes that meet the needs of the population. The aim of this review is to evaluate the current state of undergraduate oncology education and identify how Australian medical schools can improve oncology learning outcomes for students and, by derivative, improve healthcare outcomes for Australians with cancer. The review shows that oncology is generally not well represented in medical school curricula, that few medical schools offer mandatory oncology or palliative care rotations, and that junior doctors are exhibiting declining oncology knowledge and skills. To address these issues, Australian medical schools should implement the Oncology Education Committee’s Ideal Oncology Curriculum, enact mandatory oncology and palliative care clinical rotations for students, and in doing so, appreciate the importance of students’ differing approaches to learning.


Oncology Cancer Medicine Education Teaching Undergraduate Medical school Health care Australia 



I would like to acknowledge the Cancer Council Australia’s Oncology Education Committee for conducting the Annual Essay Competition and for providing me the opportunity to participate in the International Summer School “Oncology for Medical Students (ISOMS) in 2016.


  1. 1.
    Stewart BW, Wild C, International Agency for Research on Cancer, and World Health Organization (2014) World cancer report 2014. International Agency for Research on Cancer, WHO Press, Lyon, France, Geneva, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Pavlidis N, Vermorken JB, Stahel R, Bernier J, Cervantes A, Audisio R, Pentheroudakis G, Costa A (2007) Oncology for medical students: a European School of Oncology contribution to undergraduate cancer education. Cancer Treat Rev 33(5):419–426. doi: 10.1016/j.ctrv.2007.02.005 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Neville AJ (2009) Problem-based learning and medical education forty years on. A review of its effects on knowledge and clinical performance. Med Princ Pract 18(1):1–9. doi: 10.1159/000163038 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Koh GC, Khoo HE, Wong ML, Koh D (2008) The effects of problem-based learning during medical school on physician competency: a systematic review. CMAJ 178(1):34–41. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.070565 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Colliver JA (2000) Effectiveness of problem-based learning curricula: research and theory. Acad Med 75(3):259–266CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bousquet G, Orri M, Winterman S, Brugiere C, Verneuil L, Revah-Levy A (2015) Breaking bad news in oncology: a metasynthesis. J Clin Oncol 33(22):2437–2443. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2014.59.6759 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Kiluk JV, Dessureault S, Quinn G (2012) Teaching medical students how to break bad news with standardized patients. J Cancer Educ 27(2):277–280. doi: 10.1007/s13187-012-0312-9 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Cuff PA, Vanselow NA, Institute of Medicine (U.S.). Committee on Behavioral and Social Sciences in Medical School Curricula (2004) Improving medical education: enhancing the behavioral and social science content of medical school curricula. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    AIHW. 2016. Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality books. Accessed 28 March 2016.
  10. 10.
    AIHW (2014) Cancer in Australia: an overview 2014. AIHW, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Tattersall MH, Langlands AO, Smith W, Irwig L (1993) Undergraduate education about cancer. A survey of clinical oncologists and clinicians responsible for cancer teaching in Australian medical schools. Eur J Cancer 29A(11):1639–1642CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cheung WY, Fishman PN, Verma S (2009) Oncology education in Canadian undergraduate and postgraduate training programs. J Cancer Educ 24(4):284–290. doi: 10.1080/08858190902973143 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Matkowski R, Szelachowska J, Szewczyk K, Staszek-Szewczyk U, Kornafel J (2014) Improvements in undergraduate oncology education introduced at Polish medical universities between 2004 and 2010 under Poland’s “National Program for Combating Neoplastic Diseases”. J Cancer Educ 29(3):428–433. doi: 10.1007/s13187-014-0633-y CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Karamouzis MV, Ifanti AA, Iconomou G, Vagenakis AG, Kalofonos HP (2006) Medical students’ views of undergraduate oncology education: a comparative study. Educ Health (Abingdon) 19(1):61–70. doi: 10.1080/13576280500534552 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Brincker H (1988) Undergraduate oncology education in Scandinavia. J Cancer Educ 3(2):97–101. doi: 10.1080/08858198809527919 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Tam VC, Berry S, Hsu T, North S, Neville A, Chan K, Verma S (2014) Oncology education in Canadian undergraduate and postgraduate medical programs: a survey of educators and learners. Curr Oncol 21(1):e75–e88. doi: 10.3747/co.21.1667 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Peckham M (1989) A curriculum in oncology for medical students in Europe. Acta Oncol 28(1):141–147CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Estevez RA, de Estevez OT, Cazap EL, Gonzales Montaner LJ, Martinez M, Pinasco H, Abbate E, Fraschina JC, Paris A, Almira E (1988) Undergraduate teaching of oncology in Argentina. J Cancer Educ 3(2):111–115. doi: 10.1080/08858198809527923 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    UK, Cancer Research. Worldwide cancer statistics. Accessed 8 March 2016.
  20. 20.
    Geffen L (2014) A brief history of medical education and training in Australia. Med J Aust 201(1 Suppl):S19–S22CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Norman GR, van der Vleuten C, Newble D (2002) International handbook of research in medical education. Kluwer international handbooks of education, vol. 7. Kluwer Academic, DordrechtCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Zealand, Medical Deans Australia and New. 2008. National clinical training review report. Accessed 7 March 2016.
  23. 23.
    Barton MB, Tattersall MH, Butow PN, Crossing S, Jamrozik K, Jalaludin B, Atkinson CH, Miles SE (2003) Cancer knowledge and skills of interns in Australia and New Zealand in 2001: comparison with 1990, and between course types. Med J Aust 178(6):285–289PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Committee, Oncology Education. 2014. Ideal oncology curriculum. Accessed 2 March 2016.
  25. 25.
    Compton MT, Frank E, Elon L, Carrera J (2008) Changes in U.S. medical students’ specialty interests over the course of medical school. J Gen Intern Med 23(7):1095–1100. doi: 10.1007/s11606-008-0579-z CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Blinman PL, Grimison P, Barton MB, Crossing S, Walpole ET, Wong N, Francis K, Koczwara B (2012) The shortage of medical oncologists: the Australian Medical Oncologist Workforce Study. Med J Aust 196(1):58–61CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Starmer D, Jamrozik K, Barton M, Miles S (2004) Evaluating curriculum changes in undergraduate cancer education. J Cancer Educ 19(3):156–160. doi: 10.1207/s15430154jce1903_9 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Pilgrim C, Lannon C, Harris RP, Cogburn W, Fletcher SW (1993) Improving clinical breast examination training in a medical school: a randomized controlled trial. J Gen Intern Med 8(12):685–688CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Heard JK, Cantrell M, Presher L, Klimberg VS, San Pedro GS, Erwin DO (1995) Using standardized patients to teach breast evaluation to sophomore medical students. J Cancer Educ 10(4):191–194. doi: 10.1080/08858199509528370 PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Kearsley JH, Lobb EA (2013) “It is not a disease we treat, but a person”: medical students’ reflections on their first rotations to an oncology and palliative care unit. J Palliat Care 29(4):232–236PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Swanwick T, Association for the Study of Medical Education (2014) Understanding medical education: evidence, theory, and practice, Second edn. John Wiley & Sons Inc., Aufl. Chichester, West SussexGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© American Association for Cancer Education 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of MedicineUniversity of Notre DameSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations