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Oncology Nurse

Oncology nurses have the challenging role of delivering care to cancer patients of all ages. They coordinate and assist patients and their families through the difficulties and fears of a range of cancer types and treatments. Oncology nurses deliver crucial chemotherapy medications, monitor for side effects, educate and anticipate patients’ needs or questions, and act as steadfast anchors throughout the patient’s illness. They advocate for their patients as dedicated members of the oncology team.

Education Requirements

All registered nurse specialty areas require an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and successfully pass the state’s NCLEX-RN exam. Some hospitals or oncology units prefer you to have a BSN but may accept an ADN.

How to advance/career pathway

Oncology nurses must be BCLS certified.  In addition, the ONS offers many online courses you can take to gain skills in understanding cancer pathophysiology and giving chemotherapy.

You can apply to be an Oncology Certified Nurse (ONC) after working full time for two years, obtaining over 2,000 hours of oncology nursing practice within the last four years in either clinical practice, nursing administration, education, research or consultation, and ten contact hours of oncology nursing education within the previous three years.  There are several other certifications you can obtain depending on the direction of your oncology career. 

You can also get your MSN or doctoral degree with a focus in oncology and become an Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) or an Oncology Nurse Practitioner (ONP). With experience, you can become certified as an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP).

RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Infuse chemotherapy, immunotherapy and administer blood products
  • Monitor lab work (blood counts) and watch for chemotherapy side effects
  • Provide patient education and support to families
  • Coordinate and collaborate with the oncology team

MOST COMMON CASES

Cancers treated by

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Targeted Therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Stem Cell or Bone Marrow Transplant
  • Hormone Therapy

How to become a

Oncology Nurse

  1. Complete an ADN or BSN program in nursing
  2. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for your RN license
  3. Apply to work on an oncology unit or outpatient clinic
  4. Immerse yourself in courses to get up to speed in oncology treatments
  5. Become Oncology certified after gaining experience and meeting prerequisites

Specialty Groups and Communities

Oncology Nursing Society (ONS)

  • Mission: “To advance excellence in oncology nursing and quality cancer care.”
  • Cost: Free-$135, annually, depending on your membership type and current professional status.
  • Perks: Receive up to $120 discount on ONCC Certifications, free and discounted access to On-Demand NCPD courses, various volunteer and leadership opportunities, and development of student nurses through the free membership. 

Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association 

  • Mission: “To Advance Expert Care in Serious Illness.”
  • Cost: $55-115, annually, depending on membership type.
  • Perks: Members receive benefits including discounts, networking opportunities, and up-to-date legislative information. 

Academy of Oncology Nurse and Patient Navigators (AONN) 

  • Mission: “The vision of the Academy of Oncology Nurse and Patient Navigators (AONN+) is to achieve, through effective navigation, patient-centered superior quality cancer care coordination from pre-diagnosis through survivorship/end of life.”
  • Cost: $125, annually.
  • Perks: There are a variety of member benefits—from certifications, networking and events, and more—that can be explored here.

The Pros

  • Teach patients about cancer and blood conditions
  • Form close bonds with patients and their families
  • Can work in both inpatient and outpatient settings
  • Always learning new cancer treatments and therapies

The Cons

  • Stressful to work with terminally ill patients
  • Can be emotionally draining
  • Exposure to radiation and toxic substances
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Personality Traits

  • Compassionate, empathetic and a good listener
  • Strong patient advocate
  • Calm demeanor
  • Sharp assessment skills
  • Interest in research, oncology, and pharmacology
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Average Salary

Oncology nurses typically make between $51k - $99k, with a median salary of $70,989. For the most up-to-date salary information, check out Salary Explorer.

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Certifications

Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC)

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

Specific other ONCC certifications are only available for renewal.

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Work Setting

Hospitals, outpatient clinics, home care, hospice/palliative care, and doctor’s offices

Interested in learning more about what it’s like to be an Oncology Nurse? We spoke to one to find out. Read What Does an Oncology Nurse Do?