Oncology Assistant Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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Get the truth about an oncology assistant's salary, training requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and learn the pros and cons of becoming an oncology assistant.
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Oncology Assistant Career: Pros and Cons

Oncology assistants are medical assistants who work in hospitals, oncology practices or other health care settings and have specific training in basic oncology procedures and medical terminology. Continue reading for other pros and cons of this job so you can decide whether it's a good fit for you.

Pros of an Oncology Assistant Career
High job growth (29% for medical assistants between 2012 and 2022)*
Requires an associate's degree or less *
Certification is optional*
Most oncology assistants work full-time*

Cons of an Oncology Assistant Career
Low average salary (around $29,960 median annual salary for medical assistants as of May 2014)*
Most employers prefer to hire certified assistants*
High-stress job**
May need to work some weekends and evenings*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET Online.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Oncology assistants have both clinical and administrative responsibilities, including taking patients' medical histories, giving injections and preparing blood for lab tests. As an oncology assistant, you'll answer phones, greet patients and schedule appointments. You also might measure patients' height, weight and blood pressure. Since you'll interact with patients both upon their arrival and while they're waiting to see their physician, you should be friendly, communicative and able to keep them calm while they wait to hear news regarding their health.

More than 50% of medical assistants worked in doctor's offices as of 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If you work in one of these settings, your work hours will vary depending on when the office is open, which could mean working weekends or evenings. If you work in a hospital, you also might need to work holidays.

Salary Information

As a medical assistant, you could expect a median salary of around $29,960 as of 2014, according to the BLS. However, the state you work in and whether you're working in an urban or rural area is likely to affect your salary.

Employment of medical assistants is growing rapidly, especially since some employers are hiring them, rather than nurses, to lower costs. The BLS projected that employment could increase by 29% between 2012 and 2022, which would result in approximately 162,000 new jobs.

What Are the Requirements?

To become an oncology assistant, you may only need a high school diploma. To prepare, you could take extra classes in biology, anatomy and chemistry while in high school. Beyond that, you'll learn the necessary skills on the job. Among the skills you'll need are:

  • Organization
  • Communication
  • Familiarity with medical procedures and terminology
  • Record-keeping

What Employers are Looking For

Many employers of oncology assistants look for job applicants who already have some experience in the field, including experience in drawing blood. The following are excerpts from real job postings from April 2012:

  • A medical office in Tampa was looking for a pediatric oncology medical assistant who had two years of experience, including six months in pediatric oncology. The ad stated that applicants must be able to pass a background check.
  • A health care company in Chicago wanted to hire an oncology medical assistant who was professional, reliable and certified. The ad stated that the assistant's responsibilities would include taking patients' vitals, assisting doctors and coordinating schedules.
  • A health care company in California advertised for a medical assistant in an oncology practice who would take patients' information, schedule appointments and draw blood. The employer only required a high school diploma but wanted applicants to have at least a year of experience.

How Can I Stand Out?

Completing a diploma, certificate or associate's degree program in medical assisting can help you stand out over job applicants who need on-the-job training. An associate's degree can take as long as two years to complete, but other programs take a year or less. In a degree program, you might learn how to run an office, apply first aid, schedule appointments and bill customers or their insurance companies. You'll study medical terminology, physiology, anatomy and the basic skills you need to help a physician.

Get Certified

If you've completed an accredited medical assisting program, you'll be eligible for the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) designation offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants. Certification candidates must pass an exam that addresses medical terminology, anatomy, physiology and psychology. You'll also be tested on your knowledge of controlling infections, sterilizing treatment areas and taking patient histories, as well as your communication skills, professionalism and ability to maintain records. Certification can prove your skills in the field and say that you're willing to go the extra mile, which can help make you more desirable as an employee.

Alternative Career Paths

Pharmacy Technician

If you're interested in a profession in the health care industry, but don't think that becoming an oncology assistant is right for you, you could become a pharmacy technician. This job involves helping pharmacists distribute medications, label prescriptions and answer phone calls. As with oncology assisting, most people learn about this career through on-the-job training, but certificate and associate's degree programs are available. The BLS reported that some states require that pharmacy technicians earn certification, and it could be beneficial to hold certification in other states as well. Employment of pharmacy technicians was expected to increase by 32% between 2010 and 2020. These technicians earned a median annual wage of about $29,000 as of May 2011.

Health Information Technician

If you're interested in the medical records side of the health industry, becoming a health information technician (HIT) could be right for you. These professionals made about $33,000 as of May 2011, and their employment was expected to increase by 21% in the 2010-2020 decade, according to the BLS. HITs maintain patients' medical records and help with medical billing and coding. For this job, you must earn a certificate or degree in health information technology. While not required, professional certification as a health information technician is preferred by most employers.

Registered Nurse

Another possible occupation is that of registered nurse (RN). RNs also work with patients; however, they have more responsibilities than medical assistants and also may oversee nursing aides and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). RNs often specialize in a specific area, such as oncology, cardiology or critical care. They record patients' vital statistics and work with an attending physician. RNs must know how to operate medical equipment and perform diagnostic tests. They also must be able to stay calm in medical emergencies. Nurses may work in many settings, including hospitals, doctors' offices, clinics and schools. In a hospital setting, they must be prepared to work weekends, holidays and nights. With an average salary of around $66,000 as of May 2011 and anticipated employment growth of about 26% between 2010 and 2020, this could be an appealing job. However, you must earn a diploma, associate's or bachelor's degree and pass a national licensing exam to find employment.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS in Clinical Microbiology
      • MSHS in Clinical Microbiology
  • Campus Locations:
    2. Virginia College

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate: Medical Assistant
      • Associate: Medical Assistant
    Certificate
      • Diploma Program - Pharmacy Technician
      • Diploma Program - Pharmacy Technician
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    3. Kaplan University

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    Master's
      • Master: Nursing/Nurse Administrator
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      • Bachelor: Health Science
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      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
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    4. Brightwood College

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Medical Assistant - AS
    Certificate
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    5. Penn Foster High School

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      • High School with Pharmacy Technician Pathway
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    6. Regent University

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    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
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      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
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    7. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration
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    8. Grand Canyon University

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    Doctorate
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
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    9. Baker College Online

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      • Healthcare Management - MBA (Master's)
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    10. American National University

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    Associate's
      • Medical Assisting - Associate
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Featured Schools

The George Washington University

  • MSHS in Clinical Microbiology

What is your highest level of education?

Virginia College

  • Associate: Medical Assistant
  • Diploma Program - Pharmacy Technician

What is your highest level of education completed?

Kaplan University

  • Master: Nursing/Nurse Administrator
  • MS in Nursing
  • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)

Which subject are you interested in?

Brightwood College

  • Medical Assistant - AS
  • Medical Assistant - Certificate
  • Medical Assistant - Diploma

What is your highest level of education?

Penn Foster High School

  • High School with Pharmacy Technician Pathway
  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
  • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
  • MBA: Health Systems Management
  • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care

What is your highest level of education?