Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare industry. A nurse is typically the first person a patient interacts with within various healthcare settings, and they support patients, patients’ families, and other healthcare professionals. And much like doctors, nurses can specialize in a specific area. One such area is oncology.
Oncology is the branch of medicine that deals with studying, treating, diagnosing, and preventing tumors. Nurses in this area interact and help treat patients with tumors.
Let’s take a deep dive by focusing on how to become an oncology nurse.
What is an Oncology Nurse?
Oncology nurses care for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and other methods to treat their cancer.
They are registered nurses (RNs) who help patients and their families deal with the physical effects of cancer while offering support as they deal with the emotional and mental challenges that cancer and treatment bring.
In addition to oncologists, oncology nurses educate people about their disease, symptoms, and diagnosis. They also may act as an intermediary between the patient and their care team.
What Do Oncology Nurses Do?
Oncology nurses utilize their extensive medical knowledge from their nursing programs and their understanding of cancer’s pathology, treatments, and pain management to care for patients in all stages of cancer, including diagnosis, treatment, remission, palliative, and end-of-life care.
No matter the specialty, nurses have a variety of responsibilities and duties, and oncology nurses are no different. Some of their daily responsibilities include:
- Monitor, review, and update a patient’s medical history, labs, pathology, and imaging.
- Administer medication and cancer treatments, like chemotherapy.
- Identify and manage cancer patients’ symptoms.
- Help patients overcome adverse side effects from treatment.
- Help assess a patient’s physical, mental, and emotional condition.
- Oversee and record vitals.
Oncology nurses build strong relationships with their patients and are often the patient’s fiercest advocates, especially since oncology patients require frequent appointments and longer-term care.
Where Do Oncology Nurses Work?
Nurses do not only work in hospitals or doctor’s offices. Licensed oncology nurses find employment in a variety of environments and settings, such as:
- Community health centers
- Home health care services
- Hospice facilities
- Long-term care facilities
- Occupational and industrial nursing
- Cancer and surgical centers
Furthermore, oncology nurses can also find work in inpatient and outpatient units or choose to specialize in a particular area, including pediatric oncology, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.
And while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not offer specific salary information for oncology nurses, RNs earn a median annual wage of $77,600, and employment is projected to grow six percent by 2031. These figures alone make this a career with a high level of job security and personal and financial fulfillment.
How Do You Become an Oncology Nurse?
Step 1: Earn a Nursing Degree
First and foremost, individuals interested in a career as an oncology nurse must earn their nursing degree from an accredited nursing program.
This can include in-person or online programs where candidates earn their Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), Accelerated Bachelor of Science (BSN) in Nursing or RN-to-Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-to-BSN) degrees.
While associate degrees take a shorter amount of time to complete and prepare students for the nursing profession, bachelor’s degrees are becoming the standard, and employers often prefer applicants with a BSN.
Download our Associate Degree in Nursing Get Started Guide to learn more about becoming an RN at Goodwin University!
Step 2: Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)
Upon graduating with a nursing degree, candidates must register and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to be licensed and practice as a registered nurse.
Each state has different rules and regulations, so graduates of nursing programs should do their research and ensure they fulfill all the requirements for the state they wish to practice in.
Step 3: Gain Work Experience
More often than not, RNs must gain clinical experience before becoming oncology nurses. Consider applying to organizations providing cancer-related care or places where your employer can deliver additional oncology training.
Generally, RNs need two to three years of experience before specializing in a subfield. Use this time to further explore specific areas inside of oncology, such as pediatric or surgical oncology, to understand one’s personal and career-related interests and passions.
Step 4: Pursue Certification
Much like licensing requirements, requirements for certification will vary and depend on the state RNs are working in. And sometimes, certification is optional.
Nevertheless, obtaining certification will help aspiring oncology nurses specialize in oncology and make them more competitive with potential employers.
The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC), the premier provider of nationally accredited certification for nurses in oncology and related specialties, offers the following certifications:
- Oncology Certified Nurse (ONC)
- Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON)
- Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN)
- Blood and Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP)
- Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist (AOCNS)
Start Your Career As an Oncology Nurse at Goodwin University
As mentioned, starting the journey and becoming an oncology nurse begins by enrolling in an associate or bachelor’s in Nursing program.
At Goodwin University, we offer nursing degrees at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s levels, where students learn or advance their skills to perfect the quality of care they will provide to future patients and their families.
Our flexible programs are tailored to fit each student’s busy lifestyle, schedule, and needs. And our fixed tuition model ensures students know the total cost of completing their degree before they begin classes.
Enrollment is hassle-free, and it’s easy to get started. Request more information, and we’ll make sure you are ready and qualified to help patients undergo, manage, and overcome cancer in a career as an oncology nurse.