How to Become an Oncology Nurse in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for oncology nurses. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Oncology Nurse Do?

Oncology nurses provide care for cancer patients. Their main duties involve administering medicines and chemotherapy to patients, as well as monitoring their overall health and assisting in various treatments, such as radiation. Additionally, they may need to educate others on cancer and its treatment methods, and what to expect during treatment.

The following chart gives you an overview about entering this field.

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Nursing
Key Responsibilities Implement oncology treatment plans and maintain medical records; assist physician with oncology procedures and examinations; administer prescribed oncology treatments
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure as RN is required; professional certification as Oncology Certified Nurse is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% (for all registered nurses)*
Median Salary (2017) $69,912**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

What Is an Oncology Nurse?

As a nurse in a hospital oncology ward, you will administer chemotherapy and other medicines, monitor vital signs and health status, assist in radiation treatments, and update patient records. The American Cancer Society states that oncology nurses also educate patients and family members about cancer and what to expect during treatment (www.cancer.org).

Step 1: Complete a Nursing Degree Program

Although some schools do offer diploma programs in nursing, a majority of nurses have earned an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program offers a more thorough study of communication and critical-thinking skills while providing more opportunities for clinical training (www.bls.gov). An Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) can be completed in two years compared to a 4-year bachelor's program. Topics you will study while earning your degree include biology, anatomy, and patient care methods in a clinic or hospital.

Step 2: Take the Licensing Exam

After graduation from a nursing program, you will need to apply for a license with your state nursing board. You will be instructed to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. This exam assesses your competency in the areas of patient treatment and problem solving.

Step 3: Find a Nursing Job

After passing your licensing exam, you can begin work as a registered nurse (RN). You may choose to apply for an RN position in a hospital that has an oncology department. After gaining some experience as a general care nurse, you might have an opportunity to rotate into the oncology unit and provide care to children and adults stricken with cancer.

Step 4: Become Certified

The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) offers the Oncology Certified Nurse certificate (www.oncc.org). To qualify, you must have 12 months of work experience as a nurse, obtain 1,000 hours of oncology nursing experience, and pass an exam. The exam contains 165 multiple-choice questions focusing on 11 major nursing subject areas.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

You will need to keep your nursing license and oncology certification current by retaking exams and attending classes. You might also choose to network with other nurses by joining the Oncology Nursing Society or other professional organizations. Pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing may also provide you with more opportunities for career advancement, such as a position as an advanced practice nurse or nurse practitioner.

What Are Some Similar Careers?

There are many kinds of nurses who work in the healthcare field with different specializations, oncology nurses being one of them. Others include, but are not limited to: cardiovascular nurses, rehabilitation nurses, and neonatology nurses. Cardiovascular nurses care for those who have recently undergone a form of trauma to the heart, such as surgery or disease. Rehabilitation nurses assist patients with disabilities in their daily lives. Neonatology nurses care for newborn babies while they are in the hospital.

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