As an oncology nurse, you will work closely with patients undergoing treatment for cancer. This job is both demanding and also in-demand within the field of nursing itself. If you want to find opportunities located across the country while making a significant difference in the lives of the sick and ill, learn more about what an oncology nurse does and how you can get your career started.
It is the job of oncology nurses to work with patients who have been diagnosed with cancer or who are at risk of getting cancer. They work with patients both at the earliest stages of their illness, and at the latest stages of terminal cancer.
Healthcare settings range from:
Residential care facilities
The oncology nurse will handle the basic elements of the patient’s health and wellness, as well as more complicated aspects of their treatment and medical intervention. At every step and for a wide range of duties, the oncology nurse plays a critical role as part of the team that fights to cure one of the most common and consequential of all types of illness.
What an oncology nurse does on a daily basis will depend largely on the kind of healthcare setting they work in, and the types of cancer patients they work with. It is not a stretch to say that every day is different for an oncology nurse, and the only constant is the unexpected. However, there are some responsibilities that form the bulk of their duties:
- Carefully review the health history of patients
- Monitor the physical and emotional health of patients
- Keep patient records in order
- Administer cancer medication, fluids, and other forms of treatment according to strict specifications
- Work together with doctors and other cancer treatment providers
- Educate patients about treatments and side effects
- Act as a liaison between patients and doctors
- Help patients create a plan for managing symptoms
Because oncology nursing is a very demanding line of work both physically and emotionally, not everyone— or even every type of nurse—will be well suited to work with cancer patients. These are the qualities that define the ideal candidate:
- Great communication skills
- Ability to maintain emotional stability
- Empathy towards cancer patients and their families
- Flexibility to adapt quickly to changing circumstances
- Excellent attention to detail
- Strong interpersonal skills with all types of people
- Physical and emotional endurance
- Quick problem solving skills
- Respect for everyone affected by cancer
The field of nursing is booming, and the demand for qualified oncology nurses is high right now in just about every part of the country. If you are looking for a career path that offers a lot of stability and long-term opportunities for growth, becoming an oncology nurse is a path to strongly consider.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) current Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts a 15 percent job growth rate through 2026 for registered nurses, but the job growth they project is equally applicable to the field of oncology nursing.
With the national average for all careers resting at seven percent for the same time period, you can see this equates to a much faster job growth than average, and could result in the addition of some 437,000 jobs nationally.
States with the Highest Employment of Registered Nurses
The BLS cites a median annual salary of $68,450 for RNs, with the highest 10 percent in the field earning well over $102,990 annually. Pay was best for nurses working in government healthcare facilities and in hospitals.
Lowest 10 percentile
Highest 10 percentile
States with the Highest Annual Mean Wage for Registered Nurses
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Since the work of an oncology nurse is so technical and sensitive, as well as so instrumental to the care of some of the sickest patients, there are several strict requirements that must be met before being allowed to work as an oncology nurse.
To work as an oncology nurse you must first become a registered nurse. That requires you to complete either a two-year Associate’s of Nursing degree program, or a four-year Bachelor’s of Nursing degree program.
If you know from the outset that you want to become an oncology nurse, there is training and coursework specific to the care of cancer patients that you can pursue while in school. There are accredited programs for nursing located across the country and in a variety of traditional and non-traditional formats.
Certification and Licensing
In order to be licensed to work legally as an oncology nurse, you will need to pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) to become a registered nurse, and meet any other licensing requirements set by the state you intend to work in. As a licensed registered nurse, you will be able to work in a variety of healthcare settings.
It is not strictly required that you earn extra credentials before working as an oncology nurse, but considering the delicacy of the specialty, most employers only hire oncology nurse with one of the following certifications:
- Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN)
- Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON)
- Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN)
- Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP)
- Advanced Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist (AOCNS)
After starting work as an oncology nurse, most professionals pursue continuing education and professional development throughout their careers. This is a way for oncology nurses to stay at the forefront of advanced treatment methods while enhancing their ability to take control of their careers.
Are You Special?
Oncology nurses help patients navigate some of the most difficult journeys they’ll face, and as such, are a special breed of nurse. If you have the skills and empathy necessary to succeed in this tough but rewarding nursing career, tell us a little about yourself and we’ll connect you with schools that offer oncology nurse degree programs.