Obstacles You’ll Face as an Oncologist & How to Make Your Life Easier

There’s no doubt you have your hands full as an oncologist, working day and night. But the increasing rates of cancer, the growing demands on the job, and overwhelming staffing shortages exert a steady force — draining your energy and time.

Being an oncologist can be deeply rewarding, which is probably why you chose this specialty in the first place. Your goals? Curing cancer, providing exceptional patient care, and changing the course and disease outcomes for patients affected by cancer.

While this sounds good in theory, sadly the reality is slightly more nuanced, crippled by the many challenges affecting oncologists and this multidisciplinary specialty as a whole.

So what are the most significant hurdles you’ll have to overcome and what tools are available to help you get past them? Let’s take a look.

The Main Challenges You Face as an Oncologist

Oncology is a multifaceted and highly diverse field ranging from medical oncologists to gynecologic and geriatric specialists to urologic oncologists, and many more.

According to PhysicianView, there are a little over 26,000 oncologists practicing medicine in the U.S, including almost 6,000 radiation oncologists and roughly 1,400 surgical oncologists — with most specializing in oncology/hematology.¹

The outlook for oncology as a branch has been bleak as areas have seen oncology positions remain open, particularly in rural areas. The COVID-19 pandemic only added fuel to the fire, exacerbating an already challenging situation.

Steadily Rising Cancer Rates

So, here’s some good and bad news. The good news is that thanks to significant advances in research and continuous efforts toward exploring new treatment avenues, the rate of cancer deaths is falling. But sadly, due to lifestyle, and many other factors, the rates for being diagnosed with cancer in the first place, are increasing

Depending on the type of cancer, certain lifestyle factors can present risk factors for developing cancer at some point in your life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists a number of these risk factors.³

  • Tobacco use
  • Excessive exposure to UV rays
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Excess weight

Being overweight or obese heavily relies on what kind of diets we follow, with type 2 diabetes, a potential outcome of overweight and obesity, capable of increasing said risk further.

Other factors like air pollution⁴ and exposure to chemicals or certain materials, like radon or asbestos can further lead to the development of cancer.

Patient Care Challenges

One of the most profound — and frustrating — challenges of being an oncologist is the extent and quality of patient care you can provide. While striving to help patients beat cancer, oncologists face many restrictions and limitations, which can alter the health outcome you seek.

Various types of cancer offer only a handful of treatment options, while some treatments, in their own right, trigger a wide range of unpleasant and toxic symptoms. Finding avenues to provide optimal care for each individual patient can, therefore, prove challenging. 

As a physician you may struggle to ensure your patient maintains their quality of life while they undergo vigorous treatment — making you feel like you’re walking a tightrope, desperately keeping from falling. This also presents an emotional burden for you as an oncologist who doesn’t want to see their patients deteriorate under the pressure of treatment side effects.

Despite the many patient care limitations, the main issues are financial constraints and insurance requirements that make optimal treatment options not an option, which can be especially disappointing for both the patient and the physician.

Complete Medical Histories — or the Lack Thereof

As a highly specialized branch, the vast majority of oncologists rely on outside patient referrals, either from PCPs or other specialty providers. But did you realize that most physicians indicate that they experience barriers when it comes to specialty referrals for patients with cancer?⁵

This can lead to delayed and potentially unsatisfactory patient care outcomes and can further trigger feelings of frustration and job dissatisfaction for you as the treating oncologist.

With most patients coming from outside clinics, communication and seamless collaboration are key requirements. This means that you rely on either the patient — who is known to present with a selective memory — or the referring provider to submit a medical history for the patient.

The medical history, however, is the most valuable asset for you to prepare for patient consultations and familiarize yourself with the patient’s clinical data. Unfortunately, more often than not, the patient unintentionally leaves gaping gaps in his history, while you scrape for records of past surgeries, medical conditions, and medication use.

Requesting information from other offices has proven to be a complex and time-consuming task that requires many back and forths, with sometimes very limited success.

Overwhelming Workload, Exacerbated by the Pandemic

We all know that the majority of clinicians are vastly overworked, thus seeking a better work-life balance, or even considering a potential career change. But where do oncologists fall on this spectrum?

According to a report surveying over 9,000 physicians, oncology is the second most burnt-out specialty, with 53% of oncologists indicating that they are experiencing burnout.⁶ From working long hours and being on-call, hospitals find themselves in a pickle trying to retain skilled doctors.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already dire situation, leading to an even worse staffing shortage and many oncologists battling fatigue while juggling overwhelming workloads.

Tools for Oncologists that’ll Save You Time

But fret not! While you may experience many challenges as an oncologist, this discipline has expanded and evolved so much that large amounts of technological advancements can help fill the gaps. Today, many of these hurdles can be addressed by novel tools that support preventative care, enhance clinical practices, and increase efficiency.

As with most specialties, artificial intelligence (AI) is gaining traction and enabling prediction about a patient’s risk potential and likelihood of future diagnoses. Clinical decision support systems (CDSS) rely on AI and examine the clinical data in your electronic health record (EHR).

For improved communication and symptom tracking, patient support tools, such as ONS on-call can be used. 

You can even find practice management tools that are tailored to the specific needs of oncologists, sometimes offering a range of applications within the same tool, like Caring4Cancer. This also includes a Practice Business Intelligence System (PBIS), which can be integrated with any PM system, aiming at increasing claim revenue. 

Another tool is the Vivlio Health cloud-based application that can help boost workplace efficiency by supplying you with near-instant and complete medical records for your patients so you can hit those patient care goals, every single time. You can also schedule a free demo and let the Vivlio Health team walk you through any questions.

Vivlio Health has already helped oncologists improve their chart preparation process by giving them insight into valuable clinical information. Dr. Ken Winters from Bay Area Gynecology Oncology is actively using this tool. You can read his testimonial of the application here.

The Future of Oncology

What does the future look like? With research rapidly progressing, only one thing is certain: oncology remains one of the most fluid and dynamic specialties with new findings constantly providing new opportunities and changing clinical practices.

Get ahead of any limitations by being equipped with tools that promote productivity and workplace efficiency, all while improving clinical outcomes.




  1. “How many oncologists are in the U.S.?” Definitive Healthcare, 5 September 2023, https://www.definitivehc.com/resources/healthcare-insights/how-many-oncologists-in-us. Accessed 2 May 2024.

  2. “Annual Cancer Facts & Figures | American Cancer Society.” American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/research/cancer-facts-statistics/all-cancer-facts-figures.html. Accessed 2 May 2024.

  3. “Chronic Disease Fact Sheet: Cancer | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 June 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/cancer.htm. Accessed 2 May 2024.

  4. “How Can Air Pollution Cause Cancer? | Lung Cancer And Air Pollution.” Cancer Research UK, 9 February 2024, https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/air-pollution-radon-gas-and-cancer/how-can-air-pollution-cause-cancer. Accessed 2 May 2024.

  5. Kwon, Daniel H et al. “Physician-reported barriers to referring cancer patients to specialists: prevalence, factors, and association with career satisfaction.” Cancer vol. 121,1 (2015): 113-22. doi:10.1002/cncr.29019.

  6. “Medscape Family Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2024: ‘We Have Much Work to Do’,” Medscape, 29 March 2024, https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2024-burnout-family-medicine-6016961. Accessed 3 May 2024.