Oncology Nurse: Career Summary, Job Outlook, and Education Requirements

Research what it takes to become an oncology nurse. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is an Oncology Nurse?

As an oncology nurse, you would provide medical care and emotional support to patients undergoing treatment for cancer. Like most RNs, you would assist in diagnostic tests, take vital signs and keep records of patients symptoms, conditions and medical history. Another big part of this profession is teaching patients and their families how to manage their health after treatment. The following chart gives you an overview of the educational background and credentials needed for this position as well as information about job growth and salary potential.

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree to become a registered nurse (RN); specialized training in oncology nursing can be pursued at the graduate level
Education Field of Study Nursing; Advanced Practice Nursing/Nursing Practitioner (with oncology specialization)
Key Responsibilities Administer medication, chemotherapy and other cancer treatments; provide supportive care for patients during treatments; assist physicians with patient examinations and treatments; observe and report patient status and maintain patient records
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure as an RN is required; several professional oncology nursing certifications are 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 Might Be My Job Duties as an Oncology Nurse?

Your duties might include assessing patient health; assisting with patient examinations and diagnoses; consulting with physicians and specialists about treatment plans; assisting with the administration of chemotherapy and radiation; monitoring, evaluating and recording treatment results; and writing and filing reports. You also might explain treatment procedures to patients, advise patients on disease prevention and personal care, supervise assisting nurses and maintain records.

What Are My Employment Prospects?

Hospitals, outpatient facilities, physicians' offices and home care agencies are among your possible employers. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not offer specific figures for oncology nurses, it did report that RNs in general held about 2.75 million jobs in 2014 (www.bls.gov). The BLS further noted that, from 2014-2024, employment of RNs was projected to increase 16% to just under 3.2 million jobs. Job growth was expected to be strongest in outpatient and home care facilities as technological advances make the provision of medical care possible in a wider variety of facilities and environments. Salary.com reported that, as of January 2017, oncology nurses earned a median annual salary of $69,912.

What Education Do I Need?

To become an oncology nurse, you must first become a registered nurse, which typically requires earning an associate's or a bachelor's degree in nursing. Formal training programs for oncology nurses are offered as master's programs or post-master's certificate programs, many of which will require you to have a bachelor's degree.

Nurse practitioner master's degree programs with an oncology specialization can train you in advanced practice skills, such as prescribing medication, interpreting diagnostic tests and providing primary care. Courses also might cover the types, causes and treatment of cancer. Post-master's certificate programs presume you already have nurse practitioner training and are focused on the disease itself. Courses in either program type typically examine cancer pathophysiology, epidemiology and genetics, palliative care and symptom management. Programs incorporate both classroom study and clinical practicums that involve you directly in cancer patient care.

What Certification Could I Obtain?

As of December 2014, the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) certified roughly 36,000 oncology nurses in the U.S. (www.oncc.org). ONCC offers several certification options, including Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN), Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON), Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP), Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist (AOCNS) and Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN). Each certification has an associated exam consisting of 165 multiple-choice questions, which you must pass to earn the designation.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

RNs may pursue a number of specializations outside of oncology. Some that are related to oncology include critical care nursing, genetic nursing and rehabilitation nursing. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) may also provide nursing care, but under the supervision of an RN or physician. Other than nursing careers, those interested in the treatment of cancer may consider careers as nuclear medicine technologists who use radioactive drugs to identify growths such as cancer. Another career option may include radiation therapists who specialize in the use of radiation to cure cancer.

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