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.

Do I Want to Be 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 may be a negative for some health workers. On the other hand, making these youngsters as comfortable as possible and offering emotional support to them and their parents can be professional rewarding.

Job Requirements

This field requires the completion of an accredited nursing degree program and a registered nurse (RN) license by passing the required exam. Optional certifications in areas of specialization are available. Along with the clinical knowledge required, nurses need interpersonal skills to be able to assist patients and their families. The following table contains the core requirements for pediatric oncology nurses:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Associate's or higher*
Degree Field(s) Nursing*
Licensure and/or Certification All states require licensure for registered nurses; some employers prefer voluntary Certified Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurse (CPHON) certification***
Experience 1-3 years' nursing experience; some jobs require pediatric, oncology or medical-surgical nursing experience***
Key Skills Awareness and understanding of other's reactions, active listening skills, communication skills, judgment and decision-making ability**
Computer Skills Microsoft Office, database and medical software are often used in this job**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net OnLine, *** and 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 a bachelor's or associate's degree program in nursing. Programs leading to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing are generally offered through public and private 4-year colleges and universities. Associate's degree programs in nursing can be found at 2-year community, technical and vocational colleges as well as through some private schools.

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 an RN License

To become a registered nurse, one must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam. While all 50 states use this exam, some states 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

Each state has its own requirements for renewal of the nursing license. Some states require nurses to renew every two years on a particular date, regardless of when a license was first issued; others mandate renewal on the individual's birth date. Renewal typically requires completing a designated number of hours of continuing education coursework through a board-approved provider.

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