From Oncology for Medical Students

It has been over six years since the publication of the Ideal Oncology Curriculum for Medical Schools by the Oncology Education Committee (OEC) of the (then) Australian Cancer Society. The first edition has already achieved success as a guide for course designers involved in cancer curricula. The Ideal Oncology Curriculum has been implemented in some form in most Australian medical courses and has served as an invaluable guide to those establishing a new course. A reflection of its international relevance was its endorsement by the International Union Against Cancer (UICC), the peak global anti-cancer organisation.

The need for quality cancer education is increasing. In Australia, cancer has become the most common cause of death while at the same time, survival from cancer has increased to one of the highest rates in the world. There are more people who have been affected by cancer than ever before. All health care providers need to be equipped with up-to-date, relevant and comprehensive knowledge, as well as the skills and attitudes to address the needs of cancer patients and survivors.

Medical student education has continued to change. In response to workforce shortages, in particular in rural areas, new rural clinical schools have been introduced by many Australian universities and five new medical schools have opened, mostly in regional areas. These considerable changes pose significant challenges to students learning about cancer, not only in terms of ensuring consistency of standards across all universities, but also ensuring appropriate exposure of medical students to tertiary cancer management in rural Australia. Ensuring adequate standards in the setting of an increasing amount of knowledge and competing priorities across the medical curriculum remain a challenge. A common exit exam could ensure that all graduating students met the minimum high standard that society expects from doctors. Until that happens, the Ideal Oncology Curriculum can help teachers to provide a common standard of cancer education.

The Ideal Oncology Curriculum has been reviewed and updated to incorporate changes in knowledge and practice in cancer control. One major addition is incorporation of the Five Essential Cancer Clinical Experiences for Medical Students; included not only because these experiences give an invaluable insight into the patients’ perspective on cancer and its treatments, but also as they ensure that cancer learning remains firmly grounded in its clinical context and maintains relevance to care of patients with cancer and their loved ones.

The Ideal Oncology Curriculum has the endorsement of consumers, educators, students and health care professionals. It serves as a reflection of our common commitment to continuing improvement of cancer education and through it, cancer care in Australia.

Bogda Koczwara

A/Professor of Medical Oncology

Flinders University


Oncology Education Committee

Michael Barton

A/Professor of Radiation Oncology

University of NSW

Former Chair

Oncology Education Committee