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A Nationwide Medical Student Assessment of Oncology Education

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Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the USA, but there is minimal data on how oncology is taught to medical students. The purpose of this study is to characterize oncology education at US medical schools. An electronic survey was sent between December 2014 and February 2015 to a convenience sample of medical students who either attended the American Society for Radiation Oncology annual meeting or serve as delegates to the American Association of Medical Colleges. Information on various aspects of oncology instruction at participants’ medical schools was collected. Seventy-six responses from students in 28 states were received. Among the six most common causes of death in the USA, cancer reportedly received the fourth most curricular time. During the first, second, and third years of medical school, participants most commonly reported 6–10, 16–20, and 6–10 h of oncology teaching, respectively. Participants were less confident in their understanding of cancer treatment than workup/diagnosis or basic science/natural history of cancer (p < 0.01). During the preclinical years, pathologists, scientists/Ph.D.’s, and medical oncologists reportedly performed the majority of teaching, whereas during the clinical clerkships, medical and surgical oncologists reportedly performed the majority of teaching. Radiation oncologists were significantly less involved during both periods (p < 0.01). Most schools did not require any oncology-oriented clerkship. During each mandatory rotation, <20 % of patients had a primary diagnosis of cancer. Oncology education is often underemphasized and fragmented with wide variability in content and structure between medical schools, suggesting a need for reform.

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The authors wish to thank Cristin Watson, Assistant Director of Education at ASTRO, for her assistance in developing the survey tool, and the entire ARRO executive committee for their support of this project.


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Correspondence to Malcolm D. Mattes.

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Mattes, M.D., Patel, K.R., Burt, L.M. et al. A Nationwide Medical Student Assessment of Oncology Education. J Canc Educ 31, 679–686 (2016).

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