What Are Medical Students in the United States Learning about Radiation Oncology? Results of a Multi-Institutional Survey

Nicholas G. Zaorsky, Talha Shaikh, Elizabeth Handorf, Gary Eastwick, Adam Hesney, Eli D. Scher, Ryan T. Jones, Timothy N. Showalter, Vladimir Avkshtol, Stephanie R. Rice, Eric M. Horwitz, Joshua E. Meyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Purpose The purposes of this study were to assess the exposure that medical students (MSs) have to radiation oncology (RO) during the course of their medical school career, as evidenced by 2 time points in current medical training (ie, first vs fourth year; MS1s and MS4s, respectively) and to assess the knowledge of MS1s, MS4s, and primary care physicians (PCPs) about the appropriateness of RT in cancer management in comparison with RO attendings. Methods We developed and beta tested an electronic survey divided into 3 parts: RO job descriptions, appropriateness of RT, and toxicities of RT. The surveys were distributed to 7 medical schools in the United States. A concordance of >90% (either yes or no) among RO attendings in an answer was necessary to determine the correct answer and to compare with other subgroups using a χ2 test (P<.05 was significant). Results The overall response rate for ROs, MS1s, MS4s, and PCPs was 26%; n (22 + 315 + 404 + 43)/3004. RT misconceptions decreased with increasing level of training. More than 1 of 10 MSs did not believe that RT alone could cure cancer. Emergent oncologic conditions for RT (eg, spinal cord compression, superior vena cava syndrome) could not be identified by >1 of 5 respondents. Multiple nontoxicities of RT (eg, emitting low-level radiation from the treatment site) were incorrectly identified as toxicities by >1 of 5 respondents. MS4s/PCPs with an RO rotation in medical school had improved scores in all prompts. Conclusions Although MS knowledge of general RT principles improves from the first to the fourth year, a large knowledge gap still exists between MSs, current PCPs, and ROs. Some basic misconceptions of RT persist among a minority of MSs and PCPs. We recommend implementing formal education in RO fundamentals during the core curriculum of medical school.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-242
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiation
  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cancer Research


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