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Oncology Interview Questions

To help you prepare for your Oncology interview, here are 20 interview questions and answer examples.

Oncology was written by and updated on April 23rd, 2021. Learn more here.

Question 1 of 20

It's hard to get people to quit smoking, and it's often said that 'cancer cures smoking'; what steps do you think we, as a society, can do to finally rid ourselves of this powerful carcinogen in our lives?

How to Answer

This question extends the one above about destructive behavior as pertaining to the individual, but out to society in general. As a society that has learned some painful lessons with Prohibition (alcohol) and for which there seems no clear victory coming in our 'War on Drugs,' this question is another one in which there is no correct answer. All it really wants to know is where your mind is as it pertains to the ills of society in general and how you plan to make a difference individually. Hospitals use community outreach as part of their marketing strategy, so if you include that, too, you'll seem like a good fit for them.

Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

Next Question

20 Oncology Interview Questions & Answers

  • 1. It's hard to get people to quit smoking, and it's often said that 'cancer cures smoking'; what steps do you think we, as a society, can do to finally rid ourselves of this powerful carcinogen in our lives?

      How to Answer

      This question extends the one above about destructive behavior as pertaining to the individual, but out to society in general. As a society that has learned some painful lessons with Prohibition (alcohol) and for which there seems no clear victory coming in our 'War on Drugs,' this question is another one in which there is no correct answer. All it really wants to know is where your mind is as it pertains to the ills of society in general and how you plan to make a difference individually. Hospitals use community outreach as part of their marketing strategy, so if you include that, too, you'll seem like a good fit for them.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "I know that one way or another, a person is going to get what he or she wants, regardless of how much you make it inconvenient, taxable, or even illegal. All I can do is attack it one patient at a time and use my knowledge to educate others in the community setting."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      1st Answer Example

      "I am fully aware of how prohibition of something desirable, and more so, of something addictive, doesn't work. Besides crusading against it with each individual patient, I will also take every opportunity to address it publically with volunteer work for those who are most at risk--school children."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Experienced Level

      "The perceptions popularized in the media about smoking include glamor, 'coolness,' and a strange version of maturity, to those needed by cigarette companies to replace the customers who die daily from it. Such a turnover is a cruelty in that the replacements are the young. Rather than engage in a doomed battle against smoking in those who are already smoking--except for my own patients, that is--I feel I should contribute, wherever I can, to discourage initial exposure of smoking to non-smokers. I have an obligation to the community to do what I can to prevent starting at all. You don't have to do a lot of research in educating others--there's already tons of very frightening statistics that only need to be conveyed. This subject needs to use all of the tricks that propaganda uses, that is, continuous, unrelenting, and opportunistic publicising, because it's good propaganda and just that important."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

  • 2. If a patient for whom you had nothing more to offer begged you to try something--anything--else, how would you respond?

      How to Answer

      Sometimes in medicine you just run out of answers, choices, ideas, or hope. Everything has limits, from how low a hemoglobin can get and still oxygenate tissues to end-stage victory of tumorous tissue over the healthy tissue. This question wants to know how you throw in the towel in a field in which you are expected to never give up or surrender.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "As unpleasant as the facts are, this is a matter of my educating my patient on where he or she stands and why. Sometimes it is appropriate to accept the reality while assuring the patient you're still on the lookout for that new protocol in the literature."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      1st Answer Example

      "When I first compose a protocol specifically designed for my patient, I review it thoroughly with him or her, from its hopeful beginning to the many possible ends--good and bad. By the time we get to a time of surrender, I would review it again as we did in the beginning so the timeline, in arrears, could demonstrate everything's been done that could be done. I would assure the patient I am available for any 'good' surprises that may happen and for any end-of-life plans he or she wants to implement."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Experienced Answer

      "As a professional who has seen this desperation many times, it is my responsibility to keep my patient anchored in reality, as disappointing as it is. By this time I would assume both patient and family were on board with this reality and how my obligations may have to shift from the temptation to fool ourselves to one dedicated to the final dignity of life well-lived."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

  • 3. If an 18-year-old nulliparous woman were to ask your advice on hysterectomy and removal of her ovaries prophylactically due to a strong family history of ovarian cancer, would you arrange referral for such a surgery?

      How to Answer

      This question is probably jumping the gun and testing how careful you would be to avoid skipping steps on important and controversial subjects. You cannot go wrong citing protocol, if there is any; if there aren't any, you can't go wrong recruiting help from others more appropriate for such decisions, especially when the dilemma is bigger than you (which this one is).

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "I would involve her parent(s) every step of the way and involve psychological expertise as well."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      1st Answer Example

      "I would involve a multidisciplinary team made up of myself, her primary doctor, a social worker, a psychologist, and an ethicist. Together I would trust we could steer her correctly for such a permanent life-decision."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Experienced Level

      "As an Oncologist, I am ultimately the one from whom she can get a perspective on her risks if she were to do nothing. But since they are neither 0% nor 100%, I would invite her parents to take part in the discussion. Also, there is much more than her childbearing at stake here, but perhaps many children, grandchildren, family legacy, and so on. And since even high-risk genetics seldom sees malignancy begin at this age, I would recommend an agreed-upon surveillance protocol specifically for her so that we could act at the earliest opportunity if necessary."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

  • 4. After a patient's adverse reaction due to a medication error, what would you do?

      How to Answer

      This is very similar to the question above about the misplaced lab report. However, it goes a step further by describing an incident in which a person is actually harmed. Nevertheless, your policy should be the same: own it. The repercussions from honesty are easier to withstand than surviving the fallout from dishonesty. Most hospitals or state boards require doctors to take online courses about medication errors and how to take steps in their charting protocols to lessen the possibility of their happening. Your answer, thus, should be reversal of harm, admission of fact, and prevention strategies. Also, don't be afraid to say it's never happened to you, which is always good for the interviewer to hear.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "Patients put their trust in us as healthcare professionals, so errors, although inexcusable, are at the mercy of whatever standard of professionalism is being maintained. Such maintenance means constantly thinking about what could go wrong and double-checking every decision and order I make. When that fails, I cannot also fail in my loyalty to my patient via any type of dishonesty. Assuming I corrected any harm, I then would level with the patient and express remorse as part of my professional duties."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 5. If you find a senior nurse prying into a relative's chart for some personal information that is otherwise HIPAA-protected, what steps would you take, if any?

      How to Answer

      Hospitals take privileged information very seriously. Violations could severely and negatively impact reputation, credentialing, and even the hospital's fiscal health (due to fines and other disciplinary measures). Your role in policing this, however, is limited. Hospitals want such indiscretions handled a certain way, and you can assure them they will be by pledging yourself to following established hospital protocol. Today, the argument of 'my word against his or -hers' no longer applies, thanks to electronic medical records which require signing in to them, establishing permanent documentation of it.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "I would contact the hospital's legal counsel of what I witnessed and when. With documentation of signing in to the chart, it would then be up to the nurse to explain his or her actions."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 6. A lab report comes back to you after having been misplaced for over a month. What would you say to the patient and the patient's family regarding this clerical error that may have clinical implications?

      How to Answer

      This is a question about 'fessing up' when you should. Such mistakes can have clinical implications and even alter the course of disease or the prognosis. That being said, most patients are very good 'sports' about honest mistakes, which are going to happen when dealing with the volume today's labs navigate. As such, it's best to be honest and own any mistakes. Most checks and balances, thankfully, don't allow such mistakes to go on long enough where it makes an actual difference in the outcome, so being honest also protects you from the venom an attorney is likely to throw your way if you are caught in some type of coverup. This type of dishonesty will turn a malpractice case from bogus to legitimate, which helps no one.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "I would have to inform the patient and then face the music. I would hope the patient-physician relationship that has been grown would allow us to assess together whether it will make a difference. Hopefully, it won't; but if it theoretically could, I would explain to the patient the steps I would implement to mitigate any harm from the mistake."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 7. Your cancer patient has as favorable diagnosis, but asks you to sign an advanced care directive that disallows aggressive resuscitative measures; how do you counsel her not to give up that easily?

      How to Answer

      This is a question that wants you to declare, in no uncertain terms, that you know better. And you do. So don't be afraid to say it. 'Above all, do no harm' means that, among the obvious ways you can harm your patient, you also pledge to not allow your patient to harm herself out of ignorance. You have a role as an educator and an obligation to put her on the same page, clinically and ethically. It's all part of care as much as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "Since I am a specialist in Oncology and the patient is not, it is my responsibility to illustrate how what I know refutes what she thinks she knows, because that really is the situation here. My role as a teacher is crucial here to correct her misconceptions and allow be to practice at my best."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 8. Your terminal patient has cognitive dysfunction from a closed head injury, and if his family pleads with you to keep him unaware of his terminal prognosis because of how he won't be able to deal with it, would you?

      How to Answer

      This is a question centering on a patient's right to know. Keeping germane information of one's illness from him or her is deceit by omission. The issue gets cloudy, however, if a patient is not completely oriented. You should base your answers according to ethics and legality.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "I would only withhold information if the patient were not able to process it appropriately due to cognitive impairment and when such a situation would interfere with my care. The family may be right in predicting an ugly reaction, but if the patient's right to know doesn't interfere with my care, I owe the information to my patient."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 9. Do you have coverage for your patients for when you are vacationing or for when you get sick?

      How to Answer

      Continuity of care is important enough to be included in a hospital's rules and regulations. Your answer should be yes, as if it were assumed. Luckily, most Oncologists easily can arrange for such coverage from other Oncologists due to an absence of the usual competitive drives seen in other specialties. This partly is due to the scarcity of Oncologists compared to the general population and the rising of life expectancy.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "Being new to this hospital, I will volunteer to serve on hospital committees for the purpose of meeting my colleagues, one or some of which I can ask about a coverage arrangement."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 10. How would you answer a patient who indicated he wanted self-assisted suicide instead of a lengthy, pain-filled period of final days?

      How to Answer

      Your specialty is one that tries to sidestep death, but the jump out of the way isn't easy and it's never guaranteed. It makes even a rational man consider the tradeoffs in just accepting death and, to that end, even consider a 'designer' death that is easier than the alternative. You need not have a position on this subject, but siding with your patient and his or her rights may give you a way to please both sides of the issue.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "Spiritually, ethically, and morally I cannot take someone's life. However, the caveat of 'do no harm' means not allowing pain to dominate one's final days or moments. Those belong to him or her and loved ones--it's a special time that should not be wasted because of being consumed with pain. I can comfort a patient by whatever means becomes necessary. Although I cannot take life, I also cannot allow harm, which is what pain is, especially when it's being there or not makes no difference in the expected outcome."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 11. What made you want to choose Oncology as a vocation?

      How to Answer

      This is such a predictable question as to be a cliche. Nevertheless, you can count on it being asked. What's different in a setting involving an Oncologist is that it's not just a question of why you wanted to be a doctor (that is the cliche), but why choose a specialty in which you're sure to see a lot of people die. You have to express something positive about a specialty that often fails to cure its patients, and that is difficult to do. As such, you best place of refuge is probably that you want to help people any way you can, even when the odds of success are very low. Don't be afraid to wax philosophical, because after all you're answering a question that centers on a patient's very existentialism.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "I've always been interested in biochemistry and the body's interaction with it, hopefully at the expense of the malignant tissue. As such, it is a scientific specialty, with new possibilities all the time. I hope cancer will be eradicated in my lifetime , and I want to be a part of that when it happens."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 12. Are you opposed to using new protocols you find in the literature before they become accepted as "evidence-based" medicine?

      How to Answer

      This question is similar to the one above that asks if you would venture out of the bell curve of evidence-based medicine. However, more than that, it is asking if you feel you have a 'pass' to 'try anything' with a patient who has cancer, since it is a diagnosis with mortality and survival rates that can be statistically cited. It asks if you can follow your 'art of medicine' beyond that of evidence-based protocols, regardless of your patient's prognosis, when you see something that seems more promising in the literature. This question is also a sneaky way of asking if you recognize difference levels of evidence.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "I wouldn't use any protocols that weren't sanctioned by my professional organization or the American Board of Oncology. Following such a straightforward strategy means there are also established protocols for when these don't work, based on evidence."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 13. How far would you go in giving opiates to a patient with end-stage cancer? Would you go as far as giving enough to shorten his or her life if that's what it took to give relief?

      How to Answer

      Don't be fooled by this question. It isn't about the opiate 'crisis' of overdose deaths or narcotic diversion. Also, it's not about euthanasia. It's about the patient and what's best for him or her. Think of opiates as any other medication, with a perspective on its side effects or adverse effects as it applies, individually, to your patient. Also, you need to include in your answer an appreciation for Advanced Directives (AD).

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "I would make sure my patient had advanced care directives to follow, including pain management and end-of-life care. Such a document would include the risks vs benefits of the different directions things could go."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 14. How might you react if you, as an Oncologist, were given a diagnosis of cancer?

      How to Answer

      You deal with people who get life-threatening diagnoses all the time. This question isn't designed to see if you would react according to some appropriate standard, because there is no quintessentially appropriate way to react to this. You know this from your own patients. Therefore, this question is really designed just to see how you react to provocative and very personal scenarios. You really can answer it any way you want, because there is no perfect answer, and there are as many answers as there are people. However, you should include in it your empathy with others who have to deal with terrible diagnoses.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "My reaction will change with each patient to whom I give similar news. Identifying with my patients empathetically makes each of their reactions seem right each time."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 15. If you thought family members were taking advantage of a terminal patient financially, would you intervene?

      How to Answer

      One of the most common types of elder abuse is financial, but this just underscores how people who can take advantage of others usually pick the most vulnerable. Similarly, terminal disease will involve patients who are confused, fatalistic, or who feel helpless. If aware of what's going on, the last thing such a patient wants is confrontation with 'loved ones' to add unnecessary drama to his or her final days. Regardless of whether the patient cares or not, financial abuse of anyone is ethically wrong and illegal, and you have a responsibility to act on it like on any abuse.


      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "To me, this is no different, legally, than sexual abuse of a child. Therefore, it is reportable, and I have the legal obligation to do just that."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 16. Patients with life-threatening conditions often change their attitudes to life, hopefully for the better. However, if you discovered destructive lifestyle changes, how would you get involved?

      How to Answer

      The pithy adage, 'Cancer cures smoking,' means to say that bad habits continue until the psychodynamics of appreciating one's mortality give the added strength needed to re-appraise lifestyles for adjustments. This is a procrastination of least resistance, and there always seems to be time in the future to stop bad habits. However, when the time of danger becomes 'the present,' there are many reasons persons continue--even accelerate--their self-destructive habits, and the interviewer wants to know you consider the mindset of a person facing mortality as different from others.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "Destructive lifestyles are more destructive to those with already endangered lives than persons without disease. The behavior that made them sick can only make them sicker when it catches up with them. Treatment of cancer, when complicated by counterintuitive behavior, requires a team approach which can be addressed at a 'tumor board' meeting of all of the patient's other caregivers. This will help give me the direction I need to address what's going on in the patient's mind."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 17. Many patients with life-threatening conditions find comfort in religion; how would you counsel a patient who feels therapy can be adjusted because of faith in God (Allah, etc.)?

      How to Answer

      This is similar to the other question in which a patient refuses chemotherapy, and like that, it's not your basic non-compliance situation. But unlike that question, you have the reason for the patient's refusal, which gives you a starting point to begin your discussion. As an educator, that discussion could very well end up a negotiation, so you should ask if a representative of his or her faith could be there when you discuss the situation. This is no different than a Jehovah's Witness refusing blood products in a hemorrhagic life-and-death crisis.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "In this country, everyone has a right to refuse treatment. If this were to be the decision of an adult of legal age and it were confirmed by his or her church or church leaders, all I can do is offer to be available for the natural progression of the disease."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 18. Do you feel you can abandon evidence-based medicine and pursue the 'art' of medicine, especially in a patient with a high risk of mortality?

      How to Answer

      Evidence-based medicine is Gaussian in its distribution, and the further away from the mean the patients wander, the more art you will need to put into your practice. Although there may be a point at which you may choose an 'outlier' of therapy on that bell curve and say, 'What harm can it do?' (especially for a terminal patient), you still have a responsibility to the science. This sentiment is part of the professionalism the interviewer wants to see.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "The flowsheets of therapy are very well delineated in my specialty. There are very few situations where I would have to totally 'wing it.' Nevertheless, I would not refuse any reasonable quirk in the treatment plan if a patient were to ask and if it wouldn't alter the final course of the disease or interfere with the accepted treatment."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 19. If you had a patient who was newly diagnosed with cancer but refuses chemotherapy for whatever reason, how would you counsel him or her?

      How to Answer

      This is so much more than just non-compliance. It goes against common sense. There are many reasons a patient would spurn appropriate therapy, especially to save his or her life--fear of the treatment, denial of disease, fear of wasting valuable quality time when the prognosis is poor already. Whatever the reason, this questions tests your ability to relate with your patient as his or her educator, counselor, and confidant, over and beyond just 'doctor.'

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "I would make sure the patient were making an informed decision and, if so, I would respect it. But I would also make sure that the window of opportunity, which can close very rapidly with malignancy, was very clear to him or her--that optimism, now, can turn into pessimism, later, in a time-sensitive progression."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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  • 20. More than any other type of specialty, there frequently is death occurring in your work; what is your strategy for avoiding psychological distress?

      How to Answer

      This is a concern that has risen to prominence in all specialties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Oncology has always had the high mortality, and a question about burnout is fair territory. You want to come off as objective, but empathetic; fatalistic but optimistic. These are difficult dichotomies to verbalize successfully, especially to someone for whom death is a rarity in his or her life. There is a lot of science going on in your specialty, so use that in your answer.

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

      Entry Level

      "Yes, I have to admit that when a patient loses the fight against cancer, it is distressing. But being professional, I do what is expected--to stay on track for the next challenge. It is that continued diligence which gets me through."

      Written by D. Leo on April 22nd, 2021

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