Let’s start at the root, the etymological root. The term “oncology” comes from Greek and refers to the formation of tumors. As such, oncology is the branch of medicine that deals with cancer, which commonly causes tumors.
There are three main types of oncology: medical, radiation and surgical. The first uses medication and chemotherapy to treat cancer, the second—as the name implies—uses radiation and the third treats cancer by surgically removing masses.
Now that you’ve learned a bit of Oncology 101, let’s talk about one of the most important medical professionals working to help cancer patients: oncology nurses. These healthcare heroes work in one of the most challenging roles in any hospital: acting as a caregiver for individuals who have received life-altering diagnoses. Oncology nurses not only provide medical support but emotional support as well.
If you think you have enough empathy and resolve to succeed in this career, we recommend learning more about how to become an oncology nurse and what your day-to-day will look like. And we know your future patients will be happy to have you.
What is an oncology nurse?
Oncology nurses are nurses who specialize in the treatment of cancer patients. They work directly with patients who have been diagnosed and those at risk of developing cancer. Oncology nurses care for the most dire of patients and form part of a medical team that implements patient care plans.
One of the joys of this rewarding career is that oncology nurses often bond with their patients and their support system, including family members and loved ones. They often act as educators, providing more information on cancer patients’ conditions, symptoms and treatments. As such, this role requires advanced knowledge, emotional strength and the ability to support others in their time of need.
What are the duties of an oncology nurse?
As an oncology nurse, you’ll need to possess a great deal of knowledge and strength. What other responsibilities will you have as a full-time oncology nurse? Here are some key duties these nurses perform:
- Coordinating cancer treatments and tests
- Administering chemotherapy
- Administering medication
- Helping manage treatment side effects
- Implementing cancer care plans
- Providing emotional support
- Keeping up with the latest research in the field
- Monitoring patients’ progress and responses to treatment plans
- Educating patients and their families on what to expect
- Providing palliative care and symptom management
- Helping improve patients’ quality of life
How to become an oncology nurse
If you think you have what it takes to help patients in this delicate state, we encourage you to try. Your work as an oncology nurse is greatly needed and invaluable. Follow these steps, starting with your nursing education, and you can become a vital part of cancer patients’ care teams:
Get your degree
Regardless of their specialization, all nurses must hold one of two degrees: an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). The associate’s degree is a shorter program, but the bachelor’s degree is a better base education for specializing or pursuing advanced nursing careers later on. If you have the time and financial means, we recommend starting with a bachelor’s degree.
To get a license from your state to practice as a nurse, you have to pass the NCLEX-RN. Once you pass, you’ll be certified as a registered nurse (RN).
Get clinical experience
If you plan to work in oncology, we recommend starting in an entry-level role in the field to gain hands-on experience. If becoming a pediatric oncology nurse or another specialty in oncology calls to you, be sure to research jobs in that specific field.
Get your oncology nurse certification
Earning your certification can make you a much more attractive candidate to potential employers, which is why we recommend becoming an oncology-certified nurse (OCN). To apply for this certification, you’ll need 2,000 hours of clinical practice and experience in the field, plus a specified number of hours in continuing education.
What’s the job outlook for an oncology nurse?
Nursing careers are on the rise, and for logical reasons. Patients continue to need care, and the U.S. has a vast aging population. Therefore, all RN roles, including oncology nurse jobs, are expected to grow 9% by 2030.
When your work is helping others, the job itself is rewarding. But you deserve to be financially rewarded as well! After all, we all need to pay our bills. So, what do oncology nurses earn? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an average oncology nurse’s salary of around $79,000 annually, though this number may vary based on a nurse’s years of experience.
If you want to boost your income and knowledge in your field, consider becoming an oncology nurse practitioner. The average oncology nurse practitioner’s salary is roughly $110,000 annually.
Another way to sharpen your skills and earn a higher annual salary is to specialize within the field of oncology. If you have what it takes to treat children with cancer, you might consider a career in pediatric oncology. On average, the annual pediatric oncology nurse’s salary is around $107,000.
Working in oncology is no easy task. It takes strength, perseverance and empathy. We see you, and we see all that (and more!) in you. We’ll be here to provide you with scrubs as strong as you and a healthy dose of moral support, always.