How to Become a Pediatric Oncology Nurse

Learn how to become a pediatric oncology nurse. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a nurse in the field of pediatric oncology.

Should I Become a Pediatric Oncology Nurse?

Pediatric oncology nurses care for children with cancer. They administer medications, record observations, communicate with doctors and parents and perform diagnostic tests. Dealing with terminally ill children on a regular basis can make this job challenging and emotionally draining. However, despite the difficulty of the role, helping children and their families by making them as comfortable as possible and offering emotional support can be professionally rewarding.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's or higher
Degree Field Nursing
Experience 1-3 years' nursing experience; some jobs require pediatric, oncology or medical-surgical nursing experience
Licensure and Certification All states require licensure for registered nurses; some employers prefer voluntary Certified Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurse (CPHON) certification
Key Skills Awareness and understanding of other's reactions, emotional stability, active listening skills, communication skills, judgment and decision-making ability, familiarity with Microsoft Office, database and medical software
Salary $66,640 (Annual median salary for registered nurses as of May 2014)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine, CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com job postings (September 2012).

Step 1: Complete a Registered Nursing Degree Program

To become a pediatric oncology nurse, one must first become a registered nurse. RN training usually is offered through an associate's or bachelor's degree program in nursing. Associate's degree programs in nursing can be found at 2-year community, technical and vocational colleges as well as through some private schools. Programs leading to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing are generally offered through public and private 4-year colleges and universities.

Prerequisites for nursing programs generally include human physiology, human anatomy, microbiology, chemistry and psychology, though some programs incorporate one or more of these courses into their curricula. Other coursework covers aspects of clinical nursing, health concepts, pediatric nursing, leadership, nursing practice and community health nursing.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship or clinical experience in pediatrics or oncology. Nursing programs often require the completion of one or more internships or clinical experiences. Working in pediatrics or oncology can be an opportunity to gain experience with younger patients or people with cancer, which some employers require.

Step 2: Obtain RN Licensing

To become a registered nurse, one must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam. While all fifty states use this exam, some have additional licensing requirements. Some states have reciprocity agreements that allow registered nurses from other states to become licensed through a process called 'endorsement.'

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Once licensed, registered nurses might work in hospitals, cancer treatment centers, public heath communities, private physician's offices or clinics. Pediatric oncology units are often looking for nurses with 1-3 years of experience, preferably with skills in administering chemotherapy, working with children and delivering infusion treatments. These skills can be gained in medical-surgical units, pediatric units or other settings.

Success Tips:

  • Obtain pediatric oncology nursing certification. Some employers prefer pediatric oncology nursing candidates with the CPHON credential. This certification requires a current RN license and 12 months of RN experience, along with a minimum of 1,000 hours of pediatric oncology (or hematology) nursing practice and 10 contact hours of continuing nursing education.
  • Obtain PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Support) certification. Some employers prefer job candidates who are already PALS-certified. This certification can be obtained by taking a course through the American Heart Association or various colleges, universities and medical schools.

Step 4: Continue Your Education

RNs who want to advance their careers and become nurse practitioners or nurse specialists can pursue a master's degree in nursing. Some of these programs allow students to specialize in pediatric care.

Success Tip:

  • Meet license and certification renewal requirements. Renewal of nursing licenses typically requires the completion of a designated number of hours of continuing education coursework through a board-approved provider. Each state has its own requirements on the timing of license renewal, but all entail coursework that enables nurses to maintain and update their skills and continue growing in their profession.

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