Monday, March 29, 2021

The market for radiation oncologists

 Dr. Wes Talcott at Yale points me to some contemporary discussion of the labor force in radiation oncology.  As with a number of other medical specialties, there's a tension between the number of staff needed to prep a patient for treatment and the number of new board certified specialists needed to supervise such treatment. Residents fill the first kind of position, and time and training transforms them into the second.

The contemporary discussion seems to focus on proposals that individual residency programs should reduce the number of residency positions they need to fill, in a decentralized manner, either by offering fewer positions in the Match, or declining to fill positions that aren't filled in the main Match. There is a concern that a coordinated reduction in positions would invite antitrust scrutiny, although other specialties (such as gastroenterology*) have managed that.

Here's an article from the International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics:

Chicken Little or Goose-is-Cooked? The State of the US Radiation Oncology Workforce: Workforce Concerns in US Radiation Oncology by Chirag Shah, MD and Trevor J. Royce, MD, MS, MPH, Published:March 11, 2021 DOI:  

"oversupply worries have reached a fever pitch among trainees, with the job market being the primary concern and 52% perceiving an increasingly competitive market10; these concerns have manifested in a precipitous decline in student interest, with 14% of RO residency positions unmatched in the 2020 Match (compared with previous rates of near 0%) and worse numbers expected for the 2021 match."


Here's a reply, suggesting that the current situation presents an opportunity for the RO profession to remake itself in various ways:

When in a Hole, Stop Digging: In Reply, Workforce Concerns in US Radiation Oncology  Louis Potters, MD, FASTRO, FACR,  Published:March 11, 2021, International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics, DOI:


A different kind of reply is that fewer U.S. medical graduates are applying for RO residency positions in the Match:

No Longer a Match: Trends in Radiation Oncology National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) Data from 2010-2020 and Comparison Across Specialties  by Chelain R.GoodmanM.D., Ph.D.aAustinSimM.D., J.D.hElizabeth B.JeansM.Ed, M.D.dJustin D.AndersonM.D.bSarahDooleyM.D.cAnkitAgarwalM.D., M.B.A.gKarenTyeM.D., M.S.eAshleyAlbertM.D.fErin F.GillespieM.D.iRahul D.TendulkarM.D.kClifton D.FullerM.D., Ph.D.aBrian D.KavanaghM.D.jShauna R.CampbellD.O. Available online 11 March 2021,In Press, Journal Pre-proof International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics

"In the 2020 NRMP, 122 US MD senior graduates preferentially ranked radiation oncology, a significant decrease from 2010-2019 (Median [Interquartile Range],187 [170-192], p<0.001). Across all specialties, radiation oncology experienced the greatest declines in the 2020 NRMP cycle relative to 2010-2019 in both the number of ERAS applicants from the US and Canada (-31%) as well as the percentage of positions filled by US MD or DO senior graduates (-28%). Of 189 available positions, 65% (n=122) were filled by US MD senior graduates who preferentially ranked radiation oncology as their top choice of specialty, a significant decrease from 2010-2019 (Median=92% [IQR, 88-94%], p=0.002). The percentage of radiation oncology programs and positions unfilled prior to the SOAP was significantly increased in 2020 compared to 2010-2019 (Programs: 29% versus 8% [5-8%], p<0.001; Positions: 19% versus 4% [2-4%], p<0.001). Despite >99% (n=127 of 128) of US senior applicants successfully matching in the 2020 NRMP, 16 of 24 remaining unfilled positions were filled via the SOAP. Radiation oncology was the top utilizer of the 2020 SOAP, filling 15% of total positions versus a median of 0.9% [0.3-2.3%] across all specialties (p<0.001).


Supply of radiation oncology residency positions now far exceeds demand by graduating US medical students. Efforts to nullify a market correction revealed by medical student behavior via continued reliance on the SOAP to fill historical levels of training positions may not be in the best of interest of trainees, individual programs, or the specialty as a whole."


*The reduction in gastroenterology residency positions was combined with an increase of a year in required training, and this combination contributed to the unraveling of the gastro Match, which has since been restored. See the background discussion in

McKinney, C. Nicholas, Niederle, Muriel and Alvin E. Roth, "The collapse of a medical labor clearinghouse (and why such failures are rare)," American Economic Review, 95, 3, June, 2005, 878-889.


Update: here's a discussion of the RadOnc situation by the Rad Onc Virtual Visiting Professor Network

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