3 Important Characteristics of an Oncologist [Plus a Chemo Update]

11 Feb

My 7th maintenance Rituxan treatment went well on Friday. I was much more tired than I usually am after treatment and had aches like the flu Friday night and Saturday, but am feeling really well now. Ready to take on a new week!


In spite of the fact that I don’t want to have to go there every eight weeks, once I arrive I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my doctor and the nurses who care for me. They don’t have to be kind, but they are. They don’t have to take the time to listen to me, but they do. They don’t have to be compassionate, but they are. They don’t have to care, but they sure do.

I am reminded with each visit just how grateful I am for Dr. Daniel and how confident I am that he was/is the right choice of oncologist for me. There are certain things I think each patient needs to find in their oncologist. It’s incredibly important to get the right “fit” for you, as an individual. If you are not confident and comfortable with your physician, your treatment, progress, and overall attitude will likely suffer. You do not need to have additional stress added to your life at a time when it is full of stress already.

Naturally, education and knowledge are extremely important, but there are other characteristics of oncologists that matter, too. I didn’t know what I needed in an oncologist until I was well into the process of working with Dr. Daniel, but now that I am 20 months into this journey, I am able to see what it is about him that makes him a good fit for myself and Barry.

1. Approachable Personality. From day one, I’ve felt comfortable mentioning anything to Dr. Daniel without fear that he would dismiss my concern as silly or nothing of importance. He listens to each question and gives a thoughtful answer. He doesn’t overreact, nor does he dismiss things lightly. This has helped me to develop a sense of trust in him because I feel that my care is important to him.

2. Sense of Humor. This might not be key for everyone, but it is for me. I couldn’t deal with a Serious Sam every time I went to an appointment. I need a doc who is serious when he needs to be, but who also accepts my sense of humor and expresses his from time to time. Cancer is serious enough – I need to lighten the load when possible and having my doctor on board for that makes him the right doctor for me.

3. Selfless Attitude. Despite his exceptional education and experience, my care has never been focused on him – how much he knows, or what he thinks. It’s always been about me. My specific situation, concerns, treatment plan, etc. If I have a question about something that is not his strength, he has no problem referring me to someone else who has more expertise or knowledge of the subject. He is careful to constantly share notes with my other doctors, too, making it possible for them all to communicate and coordinate my care.

Your list may be very different, but if you are just starting out on this journey (and I am so sorry if you are!), take time to think about the characteristics you will need in your oncologist and be prepared to find another one if the first one you are given does not meet your needs.

If you’ve been through this before, what characteristics did you look for or appreciate in your oncologist?



9 Responses to “3 Important Characteristics of an Oncologist [Plus a Chemo Update]”

  1. Becky February 11, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    I am so glad that you are doing so good. You are right on with the qualities that are so important in and Oncologist. I am so blessed to have all of my doctors who really care about their patients. Hope you have a blessed day. Love you much!

    • rachturner February 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

      Thanks, Becky! Love you, too!!

  2. Facing Caner Together February 11, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    I appreciate an oncologist finding time to listen, answer questions, ask how things are going. While I realize they are busy-busy-busy, particularly at this stage when I’m only there for maintenance and not a priority, it’s nice to be given just that bit of time. :) That’s a very good one. ~Catherine

    • rachturner February 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

      Excellent points, Catherine! For most patients, knowing our doctor’s care about us means so much and can really improve the relationship.

  3. Katheryne McEuen February 14, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    Very well said. I am grateful that I lucked into a great oncologist with the same qualities you describe in Dr. Daniel since I ended up being “married” to him for six years. And I am convinced that oncology nurses are walking angels on earth.

    • rachturner February 18, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

      You said it right – oncology nurses are indeed walking angels on earth!

  4. Michael Buller February 15, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

    Great list. I’d only add two things that have proved really important to me. First, an oncologist who helps me think through the options and is able to present them with an opinion about what she would suggest, but without discounting the other route. (As I’m about to be making a decision about maintenance Rituxan or not, this will be very important). And to approachability, I’d add availability for that random panicked question that always seems to come up at 8 pm on Friday night. I don’t know if it’s standard practice, but I consider myself very lucky to have an oncologist who is so email responsive.

    • rachturner February 18, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

      These are excellent additions to the list – thanks, Michael.

  5. Emily Alexis April 21, 2015 at 10:29 am #

    I plan to become an oncologist. I was wondering if I could have some pointers, and what you look for in one. Thanks. Blessings.

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