Oncology Nurse: Learn About This Specialized Nursing Field

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an oncology nurse. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Oncology nurses care for those who are afflicted by cancer. These nurses must complete an associate's or bachelor's program in nursing and obtain a registered nurse (RN) license. Master's programs in nursing with an oncology specialization are available and can lead to advanced practice nursing opportunities. Certification from the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation may be required for some positions.

Required Education Associate's or bachelor's degree at minimum; master's degree for advanced practice roles
Other Requirements RN license; oncology nurse certification may be required
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 19% for all registered nurses
Median Salary (2015)** $62,345

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Payscale.com

Job Description

An oncology nurse is a nursing professional who specializes in caring for patients undergoing or recovering from cancer treatments. Like other nurses, oncology nurses work under the supervision of doctors, specifically those who are managing a patient's cancer treatment strategy. Oncology nurses may also administer radiation therapy, antibiotics, chemotherapy and blood transfusions to patients.

Education Overview

To become an oncology nurse, a student must finish an undergraduate degree or diploma program in nursing and obtain licensure as a registered nurse (RN). Diploma and associate degree programs take 2-3 years to complete, while bachelor's degree programs are four years in length. To attend graduate school, applicants must have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Registered nurses with a diploma or associate's degree (ADN) in nursing must upgrade to a bachelor's degree by enrolling in a bridge program (i.e. ADN-to-BSN) before applying to grad school. Each type of program incorporates classroom and clinical experience. Common courses of study, regardless of program type, include:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Nursing concepts
  • Health assessment

After graduating from a state-approved nursing program, obtaining a license is the next step. Earning an RN license requires passing the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses, commonly referred to as the NCLEX-RN. A license is required to legally work as a registered nurse. Additional licensing and registration requirements vary by state.

Master of Science in Oncology Nursing

Oncology nurses may earn a Master of Science in Nursing with a specialty focus in oncology. These 2-year graduate degree programs feature more specialized coursework pertinent to the adult cancer nursing field. Graduates may be qualified to become advanced practice nurses, research supporters or educators as well. Common courses include:

  • Oncology treatment types
  • Cancer detection and prevention
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • End of life care

Certification Information

The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) has several different optional certifications available to oncology nurses. Options vary depending on a nurse's level of training and education, but all require candidates to be licensed RNs. The ONCC offers both basic and advanced certification options, including:

  • OCN: Oncology Certified Nurse
  • CPON: Certified Pediatric Oncology Nurse
  • AOCN: Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse
  • AOCNP: Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner
  • AOCNS: Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Specialist
  • CBCN: Certified Breast Care Nurse

Job Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected employment opportunities for registered nurses to be faster than average, with a growth rate of 19% from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). In 2012, 61% of all RNs were employed in general hospitals, while others found work with home healthcare service companies or in the offices of physicians. According to PayScale.com, as of 2015, the majority of oncology nurses earned salaries ranging from $45,469-$88,886 annually. The median salary was $62,345.

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