Programs in oncology nursing lead to careers as oncology clinical nurse specialists or nurse practitioners, although most programs are intended for nurse practitioners. Voluntary certifications are available to these professionals. Continuing education is a requirement to maintain nursing licensure. Other career options include policymaking and cancer research.
All institutions offering master's degrees in oncology nursing require a bachelor's degree. A current registered nursing license and advanced nursing degree are also needed for certificate programs. Some schools recommend applicants also have at least one year of nursing experience for both programs. A 3.0 GPA is also needed. Some certificate programs require a specialization in oncology; others require expertise in caring for adults that have needed high-intensity nursing.
- Program Levels: Master's degree and postgraduate certificate
- Prerequisites: Bachelor's degree for master's; advanced nursing degree for certificate; current nursing license for both; one year of nursing experience and 3.0 GPA; specialization in oncology or expertise in caring for adults.
- Program Specializations: Cancer care for children
- Other Requirements: Residency
Master's Degree in Oncology Nursing
Some institutions make a distinction at the master's degree level in oncology training between a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) and a nurse practitioner (NP). Some schools consider nurse practitioners to be one kind of clinical nurse specialist, while other schools offer separate oncology specialties. However, coursework for both job titles is much the same. The main differences are the NP program has additional or different courses, especially related to clinical practice. Similarly, an NP program requires more residency hours. Some institutions offer courses, or even specializations, in cancer care for children; however, most programs focus on the adult population.
Although there are a few differences in coursework for the NP and CNS programs, most courses are similar across the board. Master-level oncology courses include topics in:
- Cancer treatments, chemotherapy
- Managing symptoms
- Pathophysiology of cancer
- Preventing and detecting cancer
- Terminal care
Postgraduate Certificate in Oncology Nursing
Postgraduate certificates in oncology nursing are for nurses already having a master's degree. As is true of master's degree programs, they are predominantly designed to prepare students to become specialty nurse practitioners. Either an NP or CNS takes part in the program. Certificate programs are much less research-oriented than master's degree programs.
Coursework varies from one oncology nursing postgraduate certificate program to another. Classes address:
- Complete management of cancer therapies
- Influence of cancer treatments on other diseases and the body and drugs
- Predicting common clinical problems
- Reasoning diagnostically and clinical decisions
- Systematic methods for assessing healthcare needs
- Clinical practice
Nurse practitioners and clinical nursing specialists generally perform the same functions. However, most nurse practitioners work as clinicians. Other jobs available to those with master's degrees and advanced certificates in oncology nursing include:
- Administrator of a cancer care unit
- Cancer care educator
- Cancer policymaker
- Cancer researcher
- Consultant in cancer care or research
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide specific statistics for nursing specialties, such as oncology. However, the BLS stated that clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners would be in great demand between 2012 and 2022, especially in rural and inner-city situations where they are required to replace physicians as less-expensive providers of primary care (www.bls.gov).
In May of 2014, the BLS reported that registered nurses, including clinical nurse specialists, earned an average annual salary of $69,790. The BLS places nurse practitioners in their own income group; as of 2014, these professionals brought home, on average, $97,990 per year.
There are no licensing or certifications required for oncology nurses other than the basic nursing license. However, the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) offers several voluntary certifications. Because certifications must be renewed every four years, many continuing-education courses are offered by the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses (APHON) and the Nurse Oncology Education Program (NOEP).