Your Oncology Team
When you become a patient at Wilmot Cancer Institute, you don’t get just one doctor. You’ll have a whole team of cancer experts taking care of you. But sometimes, it’s confusing to know who on the team does what. Here’s an outline to help you better understand the roles of all the people you may meet on your oncology team.
Medical oncologists: Doctors who use medicine, such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or immunotherapy, to help treat your cancer. Your medical oncologist often works closely with those in surgery and radiation to come up with your treatment plan.
Radiation oncologists: Doctors who specialize in radiation therapy, one commonly used treatment option for cancer patients. They work closely with your medical oncologist and surgical oncologist.
Surgical oncologists: Doctors who perform surgery on patients who have cancer, often to remove a tumor, sometimes before or after other types of treatment have occurred. They usually work closely with your medical oncologist and radiation oncologist.
Hematologist: A doctor who specializes in treating blood cancers, such as lymphoma or leukemia.
Resident: A physician who is currently enrolled in a graduate training program. Residents provide direct care, including diagnosing, managing, and treating health conditions, but they work under senior residents and/or doctors who have been practicing medicine longer.
Fellow: Physicians who have more experience than residents, but are also engaged in a graduate training program. A fellow is often training to specialize in a specific disease or type of cancer or in a particular area of research.
Registered nurses: These are nurses who are licensed and, in some cases, certified in oncology nursing or another area. This means they have pursued extra education and taken an exam to prove their expertise in a specific area, like oncology.
Some of the types of nurses you might work with include the following:
- Infusion nurses have expertise in giving intravenous infusions, including chemotherapy medications.
- Clinic nurses are those who work with you when you come in for your appointments. They have expertise in educating patients and families on the cancer treatment plan. They may also help coordinate care and answer questions by phone.
- Radiation nurses have specialized expertise around radiation therapy.
- Nurse navigators are part of your cancer care team. They have clinical expertise and training for specific types of cancer. Their goal is to be an extra resource for you and your family, helping you with challenges you may face along the way. If your oncology team has a nurse navigator, he or she may be the first person you speak with, before you come in for an appointment. They can help answer any questions as you navigate your cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Physician assistants and nurse practitioners: These individuals are known as advanced practice professionals (APPs) and they have at least a master’s degree level of education, with advanced training. They may take patient histories, conduct physical exams, order lab work or other tests, make referrals to specialists, and/or prescribe medications.
Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs): This is a nurse who teaches, counsels, and provides supportive and restorative care to patients under the direction of a registered nurse or physician.
Pathologist: While you may never meet a pathologist during your care, these experts play a critical role. They work in UR Medicine Pathology labs to examine blood or body tissue samples for diagnostic purposes. They interpret results and may collaborate closely with doctors and nurses on your care team to diagnose your specific type of cancer and develop your treatment plan options.
Radiologist: Radiologists may be involved with your care before you get diagnosed but also play a role throughout your cancer experience as they help your doctors monitor your cancer using imaging tools such as MRI and PET and/or CT scans.
Patient care/ambulatory techs: These team members help patients feel comfortable when they arrive for their visit or when they are hospitalized. For outpatient visits, they may be the team member to bring you back to your exam room and check your vitals (such as your weight and blood pressure).
Medical secretaries/outpatient access specialists: Professionals who greet patients and help them get checked in. They also help schedule appointments and take referrals from other physicians.
Pharmacists: The Pharmacy team at Wilmot has expertise in chemotherapy medications and managing cancer treatment side effects. They work to keep patients and staff safe while medications are administered. You may never meet any of Wilmot’s specialty pharmacists, but rest assured, they are behind the scenes, helping keeping an eye out for your safety when it comes to medications you receive.
Dietitian: Cancer or its treatment may impact a person’s ability or desire to eat. Wilmot has a team of board-certified oncology nutrition experts who help patients through nutrition-related challenges. Once treatment ends, they also provide education and programming to help survivors maintain a healthy diet, which research shows may help reduce the risk of some types of second cancer.
Clinical Trial Coordinator: These team members specialize in ensuring clinical trial safety protocols are met. Patients who volunteer to participate in a clinical trial will meet one of these team members who can explain a clinical trial of interest in detail and answer any questions patients have about trials.
Social Worker: Every Wilmot patient is assigned a social worker. These are licensed professionals who can help patients and caregivers manage the emotional, financial, social and other non-medical concerns that may accompany a cancer diagnosis.