What Are the Requirements to Be an Oncology Nurse?

Your role as an oncology nurse will encompass much more than administering chemotherapy or assisting in surgery. You will often be the primary medical contact for cancer patients, providing essential education and support, not only to the patient, but also to his or her family. Read on to learn more about the requirements to become an oncology nurse. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Oncology nurses are RNs who specialize in the care of cancer patients. As an oncology nurse, you will provide medical assistance and emotional support to your patients and their families to prepare them ahead of time for treatment side effects. Your interactions with patients can help determine their emotional tenor, which in turn may influence the patient's recovery process.

Important Facts About Oncology Nursing

Entry Level Education Bachelor's degree required to pursue advanced education in oncology
Work Environment Hospitals, clinics, private practices, and/or homes
Key Skills Compassion, communication, critical-thinking, organizational
Common Courses Anatomy, physiology, chemistry, nutrition
Median Salary (2014) $66,640 per year (for Registered Nurses)
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 16% growth (for Registered Nurses)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Oncology Nurse Requirements

Generally, to become an oncology nurse, you will need training as a registered nurse (RN) and additional education in oncology, as well as licensure. To become an oncology nurse practitioner, you must have a graduate degree from a Nurse Practioners program with an emphasis in oncology.

While in the NP program, you will learn about cancer prevention and detection methods. Courses will teach you how to manage both cancer symptoms and the effects of its treatment. You will learn how to care for patients in different stages of illness or recovery. You will also learn how to help them with pain management, one of the most critical areas of cancer treatment.


To practice as an RN in any field, you must be licensed. The eligibility requirements for licensure vary by state, but all states will require you to take the nationally-recognized registered nursing exam offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. This exam can last up to six hours and will test your skills and knowledge in general nursing practices. Typically, you must also meet education requirements to qualify for state licensing.


Although not required, certification proves to your patients and employers that you are fully qualified to serve as an oncology nurse. The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation offers five different oncology nursing certifications that are earned through an examination, which are graded on a pass/fail basis. The certification options include:

  • Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN)
  • Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON)
  • Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN)
  • Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP)
  • Advanced Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist (AOCNS)

To take the OCN exam, you must have a current, active license and have been practicing as a RN for at least one year. You must also have at least 1,000 contact hours working with cancer patients and at least ten contact hours of continuing education in oncology.

For the CPHON certification, the requirements are the same with the exception that your 1,000 contact hours must have been working with pediatric cancer or hematology patients. When applying for the CBCN certification, the variation in the requirements is the 1,000 contact hours must have been working with breast care patients and the ten contact hours of continuing education must have been in breast care.

In order to take the AOCNP exam, your RN license must currently be active. You also must have completed at least a master's degree in nursing and a nurse practitioner program. You must have a minimum of 500 contact hours working as an adult oncology nurse practitioner. The requirements for the Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Specialist certification are the same as for the practictioner's certification, except that you do not need to have completed a nurse practitioner program.


If you serve as a radiology nurse, you must understand how radiation therapy works so that you can explain it to your patients. You must warn your patients about possible side effects, while watching for them and treating them if they appear.

As a chemotherapy nurse, you are primarily responsible for administering the correct drugs to your patients. As these drugs can be highly toxic and can produce serious side effects, you must carefully monitor your patients' reactions and provide assistance as soon as symptoms develop.

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