Oncology Nursing: What You Need to Know

Nursing Careers

What is Oncology Nursing?

An oncology nurse is a type of registered nurse who cares for patients diagnosed with cancer. Oncology nursing is a challenging, yet important role in the US, where the American Cancer Society estimates that 1.7 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in 2018. Cancer is the second leading of cause of death after heart disease. Oncology nursing is also a rapidly evolving field, with cancer therapies and technologies continually improving as new research and knowledge come to light.

Types of Oncology Nurses

Even within oncology, nurses may specialize in a particular area, with pediatric oncology nursing among the most popular cancer care specialties. Additional cancer nursing practice options include radiation oncology nurse, chemotherapy nurse, immunotherapy nurse, and others.

Nurse with patient

You may choose to work as an inpatient or outpatient oncology nurse, and this decision will also shape your clinical responsibilities in your oncology nursing role. Organizations that employ oncology RNs include:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics and ambulatory care facilities
  • Cancer and surgical centers
  • Oncologist offices
  • Extended care facilities
  • Hospice centers
  • Community and home health care agencies

Oncology RN Responsibilities

An oncology RN cares for patients of all ages in various stages of cancer, including diagnosis, treatment, survivorship or remission, and end-of-life care. Nursing care for cancer patients may be curative, palliative, or rehabilitative. Some oncology RNs are also involved in cancer prevention education and cancer screening.

During an average day, oncology nurses may:

  • Monitor and record patient conditions and progress
  • Assess the physical and psychosocial needs of patients
  • Care for patients with acute or chronic illness due to cancer or related conditions
  • Administer medication and chemotherapy
  • Identify and manage immediate and long-term chemotherapy side effects

Beyond providing direct patient care, oncology nurses spend time educating and offering support and encouragement to cancer patients, families, and caregivers. They may share information about the disease, diagnosis, and outcomes as well as explain treatment options, side effects (e.g. hair loss, chemo brain), symptom management, and procedures. In the best cases, oncology nurses have the opportunity to help an individual transition from cancer patient to cancer survivor. However, an oncology nurse must also have the emotional stability and strength to be there for the patient and family members during stressful times, uncertainty, and end-of-life care.

Throughout the day, oncology nurses communicate with and work alongside oncology specialists and other members of the interprofessional healthcare team caring for their patients. In all interactions, oncology nurses must be sensitive to and advocate for cancer patients’ needs.

How to Become an Oncology Nurse

To enter the oncology nursing profession, you must earn a nursing degree from an accredited nursing program, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and meet the licensure requirements in your state to become a registered nurse. Many employers prefer for new nurses to hold a bachelor degree rather than an associate degree, as the bachelor’s degree program can equip you with advanced skills and knowledge. To become an oncology nurse after becoming an RN, apply to organizations where cancer-related care is provided. There, your employer can provide additional training in oncology nursing.

After gaining professional experience, many oncology RNs pursue certification, which can demonstrate your ability to provide high-quality nursing care for cancer patients. Certification can also help boost your confidence and your salary as well as give you an edge in job searching. Certifications RNs can pursue through the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) include:

  • Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN®)
  • Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON®)
  • Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN®)
  •  Blood and Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse (BMTCN®)

Prepare for Your Oncology Nursing Career

Start your journey to becoming an oncology nurse with the nursing education and clinical training offered through Arizona College in Tempe, Las Vegas, and Dallas. Request information today to learn more and speak with our admissions team about our 3-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program!

Information in this blog post is accurate as of February 15, 2019.