Non-oncologist Physician Knowledge of Radiation Therapy at an Urban Community Hospital


Radiation therapy (RT) is a crucial part of cancer care, but previous work suggests that many non-radiation oncologist physicians are uncomfortable referring for RT. To evaluate training and understanding of RT, the authors sent invitations to complete an online questionnaire to all physicians at a community hospital in Bronx, NY, which asked about oncology training and self-rated and objective knowledge of RT. Out of 247 invited participants, 87 responded (35%). Among responders, 19 were attending physicians (22%) and 66 (76%) were residents. Seventy-two percent of respondents reported caring for > 5 cancer patients in the past month, but 54% reported never referring patients for RT. Sixty-nine percent of respondents stated they received no radiation oncology training in medical school, and 36% reported no general oncology training. Approximately half believed themselves to be “somewhat knowledgeable” about RT indications (48%), benefits (53%), and side effects (55%). Objective assessment mean score was 6.2/12 (median 7) for all respondents; Respondents with internal medicine specialization scored higher than others (mean 7.7 vs 3.5; p < 0.01). Scores did not differ between attending and resident physicians, resident post-graduate levels, or receiving oncology training in medical school. The factors most commonly cited as affecting RT referral decisions were type of cancer, patient wishes, family wishes, poor functional status, and life expectancy. Many physicians are unaware of RT effectiveness or indications, which may affect referral patterns. Previous oncology training was not associated with higher knowledge scores.

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The authors would like to thank all the physicians at SBH Health System who participated in our survey and the departmental staff who provided contact information and assisted with distributing the survey invitation emails. Thanks also to Dr. Rajiv Samant for his help developing the survey questionnaire.

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Correspondence to Jonathan Klein.

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The study and questionnaire were approved by the SBH Health System Institutional Review Board.

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Siau, E., Salazar, H., Livergant, J. et al. Non-oncologist Physician Knowledge of Radiation Therapy at an Urban Community Hospital. J Canc Educ 36, 199–206 (2021).

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  • Medical education
  • Graduate medical education
  • Continuing medical education
  • Resident education
  • Radiation oncology