Oncology nurses have the challenging role of providing hope and showing confidence to those diagnosed with cancer. They require a solid steadiness to support their patients and meet their emotional needs while delivering treatments that may be difficult to tolerate. Oncology nurses share in their patient’s joy when they reach the stage of being cancer-free and are there to hold them when the news is grim and less optimistic.
Oncology nurses not only care for their patients but provide support for the entire family. Everyone connected to the patient will be fearful, concerned about survival, and want a treatment that could lead to a cure. Using compassionate communication is crucial as patients may not be equipped to ask or understand all that is happening to them. Oncology nurses must educate patients on their diagnosis, how they should manage the side effects of medications, and build trust when patients feel vulnerable.
Cancer care knowledge and treatments have evolved over the years, so the wealth of information requires oncology nurses to stay on top of their specific cancer specialty area. In addition, they are their patient’s advocate and must explain and guide them through the available treatment choices.
Oncology nurses often receive advanced training to improve their skills. Some become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) either as oncology nurse practitioners (ONPs) or oncology clinical nurse specialists (OCNSs).
Oncology nurses perform some of the same activities as other nurses but focus mainly on cancer treatment delivery.
General activities may include:
- Taking patient histories and doing physical exams
- Infusing chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and administering blood products
- Monitoring vital signs
- Tracking lab work (blood counts) and watching for chemotherapy side effects
- Providing patient education and support to families
- Supporting patients receiving radiation therapy
- Coordinating and alerting the oncology team to any significant changes that need attention
Oncology nurses often administer chemotherapy IV treatments to patients, so they need expert IV skills. They must have a thorough knowledge of the doses, actions, and side effects of the drugs they infuse. Often, medications are given through central venous access devices, which they must know how to maintain and troubleshoot.
Oncology nurses handle chemotherapy and are exposed to radiation substances, so they must learn safety precautions to protect themselves and others. In addition, they need scrupulous infection control techniques since their patients are often immunosuppressed.
Oncology nurses must also have skills in grief and counseling techniques to assist their seriously ill patients and their families.