Advancing Your Career | Specialties

Take These Steps to Become an Oncology Nurse

  • An oncology nurse specializes in treating cancer patients.  
  • Many employers prefer oncology nurses to have specialized certification due to the nature of the work.  
  • An oncology nurse can earn upwards of $100,000 per year.  

      Mariya Rizwan

      Pharm D

      June 06, 2024
      Simmons University

      More than 1.6 million new cancer cases were reported in the United States in 2020, and more than 600,000 people died as a result of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

      For every 100,000 people, 403 new cancer cases were diagnosed, and 144 people died because of the illness. With the number of cancer cases increasing daily, there is an increased demand for an oncology nurse practitioner. 

      What is an Oncologist Nurse Practitioner?

      A oncology nurse practitioner specializes in caring for cancer patients. They are advanced practice registered nurses whose responsibilities range from diagnosing and treating cancer patients to assessing treatment in collaboration with consultants and the healthcare team.   

      Oncology nurse practitioners (NPs) order and administer various medications, including chemotherapy. They also manage the patient’s cancer treatment plan and ensure the patient can tolerate chemotherapy without any significant side effects. Oncology NPs monitor chemotherapy side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and other symptoms that need to be treated. They also administer medications for pain control. Sometimes, they consult or make referrals to palliative care or hospice when required.   

      Oncology nurse

      Where do Oncologist Nurse Practitioners Work?

      An oncology nurse practitioner can work in various settings, such as:  

      • Hospitals  
      • Cancer centers  
      • Palliative care centers  
      • Extended-care facilities  
      • Physician offices and clinics  
      • Home Health and Hospices  

      The working schedule of an oncology nurse practitioner varies depending on their employer. However, schedules generally involve a 40-hour work week with a set schedule or rotating shifts. 

      How to Become an Oncology Nurse Practitioner

      Before you become an oncology NP, decide if oncology is the right fit for you, as it requires a lot of mental stamina to sustain. You regularly work with critically ill patients and must provide timely treatment, which makes it a challenging and demanding field.   

      Get A BSN or ADN 

      A BSN takes four years to obtain, and an ADN takes two years. Tuition costs for an ADN are less than those of a BSN. However, some employers prefer a BSN for working with critically ill patients. To get that, you can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program.   

      Enroll in and graduate from an accredited institute, making you eligible to take the licensing exam.  

      Take the Licensing Exam 

      Once you have completed your education and become a nurse, take the licensing exam to practice as a nurse. To work in the U.S., you have to take the NCLEX exam — a computer-based exam comprised of multiple-choice questions.   

      Once you pass the NCLEX exam, you can apply for a license to practice as a nurse in the U.S.   

      Gain Experience 

      After becoming a registered nurse, you can begin your oncology career in an entry-level position. You can choose between many specialized options in oncology, such as blood marrow transplants and pediatric or surgical oncology. At this stage, you can explore different sub-specializations of oncology practice and gauge your interest by working in various settings.   

      Certification of Nurses 

      Getting a certification is not required, but preferred. Many employers prefer certified nurses with Oncology Certified Nurse certification because caring for cancer patients is complex. There are various oncology certifications and specialties, such as pediatrics, hematology, and oncology.   

      Most certifications require at least two years of nursing experience, 2,000 clinical practice hours in the oncology setting, and continuing education hours in the last four years.   

      Various certifications are available in oncology nursing, such as:  

      • Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN 
      • Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON)  
      • Blood & Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse (BMTCN 
      • Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP 
      • Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN

      Oncology nurse 

            Needed Skills, Traits for an Oncology Nurse Practitioner 

            An oncology nurse interprets patient reports, decides the plan accordingly, and treats symptomatically. Therefore, you should have a sound understanding of pathology and the use and side effects of cancer medications.  

            The following skills and traits also are desired to be an efficient oncology nurse practitioner (NP): 

            • Empathy: It’s important to put yourself in the other person’s position and try to understand how they feel. Cancer patients are affected not only physically, but mentally as well. Therefore, be kind, empathetic, and speak words of encouragement. 
            • Communication: Oncology NPs have to work in a team with other healthcare providers. That makes it imperative to communicate and discuss patient’s case details. Moreover, you also must inform and educate the patient about their diagnosis, its appearance, how it will affect their life, which medications they have to take, and what to expect with chemo or radiation therapy. With a cancer diagnosis, patients and their caregivers can be apprehensive, so speak to them with patience and compassion. 
            • Attention To Detail: Cancer patients need to be monitored closely and with keen attention. You must check if the medications must be changed when a patient requires a referral, along with the other details of their health condition. 
            • Time Management: With the increasing number of cancer cases, the workload for oncology NPs is overwhelming. Because you treat various patients simultaneously, you should have efficient time management skills. 
            • Emotional Intelligence: As an oncologist NP, you must occasionally break bad news to your patients. Therefore, you must be emotionally intelligent in informing patients about their disease and answering their questions. You should know how much information you give so the patient can bear it. By looking at their eyes, you should be able to gauge what’s going on in their minds. Emotional intelligence is another trait that oncology NPs should possess.  

            Benefits of Becoming an Oncology Nurse Practitioner  

            Becoming an oncologist NP is beneficial in the following ways:  

            • Inner Satisfaction 
            • Continuity with patients 
            • Value the small things in life 
            • Make a difference in a patient’s life 
            • Variety of Work Settings  
            • Travel Nursing Options 
            • High Salary – $100,000 plus per year

            Oncology nurse

            The Bottom Line

            In oncology nursing, you have an overwhelming patient load because of the increase in cancer diagnoses. It is also mentally taxing because you will lose some of your patients. At the same time, it is equally rewarding, gives you an inner feeling of satisfaction, and makes you joyful by caring for cancer patients and seeing them recover.   

            More than anything, decide on your personal preferences if you should become an oncology nurse practitioner. If you are confused, you can shadow an oncologist NP to gain insight into the job role and demands. 

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