What is an Oncology Nurse and how do I become one?

What is an Oncology Nurse and how do I become one?

Are you an aspiring registered nurse trying to figure out your career path or an experienced nurse searching for a new nursing opportunity? Why not become an oncology nurse? 

The field of oncology is one of the most challenging and rewarding in healthcare. Oncology nurses care for patients diagnosed with cancer and often support caregivers and guardians through the process. An oncology nurse can work in facilities that treat cancer patients, including hospitals, cancer, surgical centers,  and even the military. But what is an oncology nurse, and how can you become one?

What is an Oncology Nurse?

An oncology nurse is a registered nurse that cares for patients with cancer. They help educate patients and their caregivers by designing and implementing personal treatment plans; they counsel on preventative measures, assist in chemotherapy treatments, and administer medication and maintain health records. Oncology nurses also maintain positive relationships with their patients and support them every step of the way.  

How Do You Become An Oncology Nurse

To become an oncology nurse, you need the right credentials and licenses, plus you must be a registered nurse.  The first thing you must do is earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing(BSN). You must sit for the NCLEX exam once you complete your BSN. Once you have passed the exam and become a registered nurse, you can explore oncology nurse positions.

Next, as a new registered nurse, you can volunteer or shadow oncology nurses to gain experience. As a nursing assistant in the oncology department or facility, you can connect with and seek mentorship from oncology nurses and assist with patient care. Not only does working or volunteering as a nursing assistant help you gain experience, but you’re able to connect with wonderful oncology nurses who can mentor you on what to expect as an oncology nurse.

What you need to become certified

To become a certified oncology nurse, you need to take the Oncology Certified Nurse exam from the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation

  • A minimum of one year experience as an RN
  • 1000 oncology nursing practice hours before working in oncology (applies to all nursing specialties)
  • 10 contact hours of nursing oncology course work 

Additional Information

  • You can become an oncology certified nurse with an associate degree (LPN), but you may need a BSN for more advanced oncology opportunities. 
  • Every state requires oncology nurses to hold a license to practice. Contact your state medical board for your state license and regulation option.
  • To become an oncology nurse practitioner, you need to complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). You need 500 hours of supervised clinical practice in oncology to become an advanced practice nurse (APN) 
  • You can earn volunteer certifications while volunteering (they count towards your 1000 hours)
    • Certified Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Nurse (CPHON)
    • Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN)
    • Blood and Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse (BMTCN)
    • Advanced Oncology Nurse (AOCN)

How Much Do They Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS projects) field of nursing grows 12% more than other industries, so oncology is one specialty in high demand. The median salary for oncology nurses is  $71,000  depending on experience, location, etc. However, for more experienced oncology nurses’ pay is $97,000. 

Note:  Most oncology nurses work full time, day, or night shifts but depend on the facility, demand, and location.

The Role of an Oncology Nurse

Oncology nurses work in inpatient and outpatient wards, bone marrow transplant units, and home and community care agencies; this means they interact with various providers and social service institutions. Oncology nurses connect with these support staff to provide and develop treatment plans for their patients. The role of the oncology nurse is to care for and prioritize patient treatment and safety.  Sometimes, oncology nurses serve as caregivers and work with their patients from diagnosis to the end of their treatment. 

Responsibilities

  • Educate cancer patients on treatment options, procedures, etc. on their diagnosis
  • Administer medications and treatment, i.e., chemotherapy
  • Collaborate with a support team to develop patient care plans, including patient goals
  • Keep health records up to date, including diagnostic tests, results, assessments.
  • Assist with symptom management during treatment and care
  • May train or guide other nurses and support staff in clinical practices

Skills Needed to Succeed

Working in the Oncology department can be challenging as patients and caregivers deal with diagnoses and uncertainties. Oncology nurses need specific skills to interact with their patients and their environment.  Working within a high-stress environment where you’re trying to connect and care for patients who often are dealing with cancer for the first time requires stability and interpersonal communication. Oncology nurses can become their patient caregivers or designated contact person, so developing a safe and trusting relationship is essential for this role. 

Other skills needed 

  • Attention to detail
  • Emotional stability, when helping patients during treatment and coping with death
  • Development
  • Negotiation
  • Experience performing assessments and patient triage

Conclusion

Working as an oncology nurse can be challenging as you help patients navigate their diagnoses, symptoms, and treatment. Connecting with other health professionals and support staff will help you not only guide your patients through difficult times but help you grow as a nurse. Developing relationships with staff, patients, and their caregivers are essential.  Oncology, like other specialties, has an array of areas, i.e., geriatric, pediatrics. Hence, if you’re interested, reach out to various oncology professionals and advisors and get to know more about the field. 

Note: Working in oncology means potential exposure to dangerous materials and situations, i.e., radiation. Remember to follow safety precautions and guidelines, including using and wearing PPE.

We hope this article was helpful. Let us know in the comment below if there’s something we missed or if you have questions.

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About the author

Joycelyn Ghansah

Joycelyn Ghansah is a former Healthcare Organizer with a background public health, include reproductive and sexual health. When she's not freelance writing, she's transcribing interviews and researching ways to strengthen healthcare labor laws.

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