A hematologist could...
|Determine whether a child with a blood cancer should receive a stem cell transplant.||Research how to improve treatment for people with hemophilia, a bleeding disorder.|
|Diagnose a person with a rare blood disorder and advise treatment.||Detect a person's blood clot and treat it before it becomes fatal.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Hematologists are all about blood. They diagnose people with blood disorders and prescribe or administer appropriate treatments. There are many different types of blood disorders, including bleeding disorders and blood cancers. Hematologists also investigate ways to improve diagnosing and treatment of these disorders.|
|Key Requirements||Strong observational skills, empathy, complex problem solving abilities, outstanding communication skills, strong desire to help others, and great interpersonal communication|
|Minimum Degree||Doctoral or professional degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, English; if available, computer science, physiology, biomedical science, statistics, foreign language|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)|
Training, Other Qualifications
To practice as a hematologist, you must have eight years of education beyond high school, which includes medical school, medical residency, and a fellowship. In order to receive board certification—which is needed to practice hematology in the United States—the fellowship must occur in an approved hematology program. Hematologists must also be licensed in the state(s) they work in. Licensing requirements may vary from state to state.
Education and Training
To become a board-certified hematologist, several requirements must be met:
- Four years of premedical education in a college or university.
- Four years of medical school resulting in an MD (Doctor of Medicine degree).
- Three years in a medical residency, typically in internal medicine or pediatrics, although other general residency programs may be used as well.
- Two- to five-year fellowship in a sub-specialty of hematology, specifically: adult hematology, pediatric hematology/oncology, hematology/oncology, coagulation, or pathology. During this time, the person may focus on either having a clinical or a research career.
People who want to become hematologists must have a desire to serve patients, be self-motivated, and be able to survive the pressures and long hours of medical education and practice. Hematologists must also have a good bedside manner, emotional stability, and the ability to make decisions in emergencies. Prospective hematologists must be willing to study throughout their career to keep up with medical advances.
Nature of the Work
A hematologist is a medical doctor who has been specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders. This includes a wide range of disorders, such as bleeding disorders (like hemophilia), blood cancers (like leukemia), blood clots (which can cause heart attacks and strokes if untreated), sickle cell disease, anemia, bone marrow disorders, rare blood disorders, and others. To diagnose a patient, the hematologist talks to the patient to understand the symptoms and other possible complicating factors. Since a hematologist is a specialist, patients are often referred to a hematologist by their primary doctor, so the hematologist often also has notes from the primary doctor to review and consider. The hematologist will also take and analyze blood samples (sometimes using several different tests) from the patient to make a diagnosis and to determine the most effective treatment plan.
Some of the treatments that a hematologist may administer, depending on the patient's blood disorder and condition, include:
- Various kinds of chemotherapy (for cancers)
- Radiotherapy (for cancers)
- Bone marrow or stem cell transplant (often for cancers)
- Blood transfusion (for anemia)
- Anticoagulation therapy (using anticoagulant drugs to prevent or treat unwanted clotting)
- Adding and/or removing different components from a patient's blood
- Immunosuppressive drugs
Some hematologists choose to be involved with research and/or primarily conduct research on different aspects of blood disorders. Both those who see patients and those who do research need to stay up to date on the latest research findings.
Hematologists may work in a small practice or in a larger group, such as in a hospital. If a hematologist works in their own small practice, they may also handle the business aspects of the practice, such as managing a staff of nurses and other administrative personnel. If the hematologist is part of a larger group, they may be actively involved in collaborations with others in the group, such as by participating in research initiatives, or serving on committees (committees are organized subgroups that regularly meet to make decisions about how to run different aspects of the large group itself). They may also work closely with other specialists—such as radiation oncologists—to treat patients, perhaps by developing a radiation therapy plan for a patient with cancer.
Hematologists may travel between several different locations, including a hospital or other medical facility (where they may perform surgeries and other medical procedures), a lab (where they analyze blood samples from patients), and a private office (where they do paperwork, read up on research, and write up their own research findings). They often encounter stressful situations where they need to remain calm and help keep patients calm.
On the Job
- Examine patients to obtain information about symptoms that can be correlated to a specific blood disorder (in order to make a proper diagnosis).
- Understand and perform a variety of general laboratory techniques on blood samples and other fluids from a patient to make a diagnosis, including electrophoresis, immunoprecipitation, cytochemistry, southern blots, northern blots, flow cytometry, methods of analyzing DNA and RNA (such as polymerase chain reaction [PCR] and microarrays), and others.
- Perform more specialized hematology clinical laboratory techniques (such as blood counts, osmotic fragility, platelet function studies, tissue typing [such as HLA typing], and morphologic tissue evaluation) to make a diagnosis.
- Diagnose and develop treatment plans for specific bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia, by performing relevant tests (such as thrombin-related assays, tests using coagulation factors and inhibitor assays, and bleeding time tests).
- Look for hematologic malignancies in a patient using cytogenetics, such as fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH).
- Understand and perform tests related to red blood cells (RBCs), such as RBC enzyme assays and microscopic identification of RBC parasites.
- Develop a chemotherapy plan for a patient with cancer, possibly working with an oncologist.
- Work with a radiation oncologist to develop a radiotherapy plan for a patient with cancer.
- Use imaging technologies, including ultrasounds, nuclear medicine studies, computed tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and combinations of these technologies.
- Apply knowledge of how age affects normal blood-related processes.
- Use advanced blood banking techniques, including banking and matching samples by specific blood parameters.
- Perform various types of transfusions for different types of blood disorders.
- Use an understanding of how different medical drugs can affect a patient, both negatively and positively.
- Plan and supervise the work of the hematology staff, residents, and/or visiting hematologists.
- Train and direct staff and medical students in the proper methods needed to acquire and handle samples from patients.
- Conduct research and present scientific findings.
- Develop or adopt new tests or instruments to improve diagnosis of diseases.
- Educate physicians, students, and personnel in other medical laboratory professions such as medical technology, oncology, and cytotechnology.
- Counsel patients or others on the background of blood disorders, including risk factors and/or genetic or environmental concerns.
- Read current literature, talk with colleagues, and/or participate in professional organizations or conferences to keep abreast of developments in hematology.
- Review cases by analyzing laboratory findings or case investigation reports.
Companies That Hire Hematologists
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- BLS. (2016). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2016 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- NIH Office of Science Education. (n.d.). LifeWorks. Retrieved March 20, 2014.
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Hematology. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
- American Society of Hematology. (n.d.). Why Choose Hematology?. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
- American Society of Hematology. (n.d.). Resources for Hemotology Course Directors. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
- Scholastic.com. (n.d.). Do I Have What It Takes to Be a Hematologist?. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
- Medical School University of Iowa College of Medicine. (2013, February 11). Aarthi G. Shenoy, M.D. - Hematology Oncology. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
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