Cancer: It’s a frightening word that no one wants to hear as a diagnosis. Every patient’s journey with this illness is different, but one thing is always true: Cancer patients need the help and support of a talented, dedicated medical team.
Oncology nurses form an essential part of that team of healthcare heroes. They use their specialized knowledge to support cancer patients along their journey. An important part of an oncology nurse’s unique knowledge is how to take care of patients with potentially life-threatening conditions.
It isn’t easy work. We salute you for wanting to take it on and help others in their fight against cancer. Read on to learn what this role entails, whether it’s right for you, and how you can begin your career in the field.
What is an oncology nurse?
Not surprisingly, being an oncology nurse isn’t exactly what most would call an easy career, but as emotionally trying as it can be, cancer nursing is meaningful noble work. These healthcare professionals provide much-needed support in hard times and play a vital role in patients’ comfort, well-being, and recovery.
The oncology nursing specialty has a broad scope. This field covers prevention, early detection, treatment, symptom management, and palliative care.
What do oncology nurses do?
What does a day in the life of an oncology nurse look like? These nurses provide an immense amount of patient care, but here are some of the most typical critical tasks that oncology nurses perform:
- Staying up on labs, imaging studies and other important reports
- Administering medication
- Administering fluids
- Administering cancer treatments, like chemotherapy
- Providing patient education, helping them understand treatment plans and their condition while clarifying complex concepts
- Acting as a liaison between the patient, the physician and the rest of the care team
- Tracking emotional and physical changes
- Providing moral support
- Helping patients manage pain, symptoms and quality of life
Where do oncology nurses work?
Cancer patients receive treatment in different healthcare environments depending on the severity of their case, meaning oncology nurses work in various settings, including hospitals, physician offices, outpatient clinics, private practices and long-term care facilities.
What are the challenges oncology nurses face?
All nursing careers require empathy, but cancer is a particularly frightening diagnosis, especially depending on the severity of the case. That means oncology nurses must be natural caregivers. They must be able to show compassion for patients’ fears and anxieties. Oncology nurses must also make space for family members and friends struggling with a loved one’s condition.
Oncology nurses may also feel responsible for a patient’s recovery, even when the disease is terminal. It’s important to remember that sometimes, the quality of care that a nurse provides cannot change the outcome of a patient’s survival, and this can be frustrating and even lead to burnout. Oncology nurses must understand this and have compassion for themselves as well.
Oncology nursing is challenging work mentally, too. There is no one type of cancer, so oncology nurses need to familiarize themselves with a lot of information and understand the nuances of each patient’s case. These nurses must practice incredible attention to detail to avoid harmful mistakes.
So why choose oncology nursing? This field may come with unique challenges, but there’s nothing more honorable than helping others, especially in their time of need as a healthcare professional.
How to become an oncology nurse
So you have a big heart (and a big brain), and you think oncology nursing is a career in which you can put your compassion and smarts to work. But what exactly does the journey of becoming a cancer nurse look like? As you may imagine, it all starts with going to school.
Earn your degree
For any nursing career, you’ll need to earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited nursing program. While the former is a fast track to getting started, we recommend the latter if you plan to specialize, as this degree provides a better base and access to further educational opportunities. In oncology nursing, almost all employers require a BSN.
To become a registered nurse (RN), you’ll have to pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Once you do, you can apply for licensure in your state.
Get hands-on experience
Learning by doing (a.k.a clinical practice) is essential for any medical education, so look for a job in cancer care once you start to practice as an RN. Your choices include pediatric oncology, surgical oncology or transplants.
The oncology certified nurse (OCN) credential is a must for many employers, so consider getting yours in the area of oncology nursing in which you intend to work. You will likely have to show at least two years of nursing experience, 2,000 hours of oncology nursing experience, and a certain number of continuing education hours.
The career outlook for oncology nurses
All nursing careers (well, healthcare careers in general) are rising. Patients will always need care, so medical professionals are in demand—the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 10-year growth rate of nine percent for RN work, and the rate for oncology nursing jobs should be on par.
And now, the million-dollar question: How much do oncology nurses make? The annual salary for this challenging work is around $75,000 USD, but this number will depend on one’s experience and workplace.
We know oncology nurses dedicate themselves to helping cancer patients feel as comfortable and optimistic as possible throughout their recovery. That’s why we believe the least we can do for such hardworking, devoted healthcare professionals is to help them feel their best in quality scrubs. After all, the little things can make a huge difference in our days—although, if you’re already an oncology nurse or studying to become one, you probably already know that. We hope the comfort of our garments will go a long way, always ( especially on the most stressful shifts).