Graduates of an undergraduate nursing school program looking for further education in cancer treatment might consider a master's degree program in nursing that covers basic and advanced topics in oncology. Registered nurses who hold a master's degree can pursue a postgraduate certificate in oncology. Physicians who have a medical degree can apply to 3-year fellowship programs in oncology.
The curricula of these programs generally cover oncology approaches to different types of cancers and include field experiences in which students work with doctors in clinical rotations. Nurse practitioners can pursue specialty certification in oncology, while physicians can seek board certification in oncology from the American Board of Internal Medicine.
Master of Science in Nursing with a Specialization in Oncology
Although no master's degree programs exist specifically in oncology, students might consider enrolling in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program that offers a specialty in oncology. Students learn critical decision-making, analytical-thinking, and research skills through a combination of informative lectures and practical hands-on experience in a clinical setting.
Programs are intended for recent nursing school graduates or trained nurses looking to gain a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree.
MSN programs that focus on oncology combine some structured coursework with intensive patient and doctor interaction in a real-life clinical environment. Some course topics include:
- Research methods in oncology
- Managing symptoms
- Clinical pharmacology and oncology
- Nursing as a profession
Postgraduate Certificate in Oncology
Postgraduate certificate programs are intended for licensed nurses who hold a MSN and are looking for advanced education and specialization in the field of oncology. Students focus on detection of cancers, quick intervention, recovery and delivering cost-effective healthcare. Programs stress clinical analysis, critical thinking abilities and efficient patient care. The goal of a postgraduate certificate program is to offer students advanced education and prepare them to sit for the Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner examination.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree, a master's degree in nursing and have a current Registered Nurse (RN) license. Students must also often have at least a year of professional experience.
Certificate programs prepare students to become licensed nurse practitioners. While much of a student's time is devoted to practical application in a clinical environment, students spend some time attending lectures that cover the following topics:
- Oncology illness
- Chronic oncology conditions
- Oncology screening
- Health promotion
- Pharmacology and oncology
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Postdoctoral Fellowship in Oncology
Postdoctoral fellowship programs provide physicians and surgeons with advanced study in the specialized field of oncology. The focus of a fellowship program is the development of laboratory research and analytical skills, research administration skills, data interpretation, and advanced medical practice in the empathetic and effective detection, treatment and prevention of cancer. Along with performing independent research, students accompany attending physicians on rounds and engage in clinical rotations. This experience gives students exposure to areas of medicine such as bone marrow transplants, transfusion medicine, hematopathology and hematology/oncology emergencies.
Fellowship applicants must be licensed doctors. Medical degrees are awarded after students complete formal educational requirements and pass a licensing examination. Educational requirements entail four years of undergraduate school followed by four years of medical school. Upon completion of medical school, students enter a residency program at a teaching hospital. Residency programs typically last from two to six years, depending on a resident's area of specialization. To obtain licensure, students must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
In lieu of a fixed curriculum of classes, fellowship programs allow students to conduct focused, directed research in the area of oncology. Along with designing, administering and analyzing research tests and results, students spend a significant amount of time in clinical practice. Other educational opportunities include participating in professional organizations, attending conferences and attending lectures in the following subjects:
- Gynecological oncology
Possible Career Options
Although a postgraduate certificate program is intended to train registered nurses for further education in the field of oncology, certificate programs provide some professional experience and education that can be relevant to other career paths, such as:
- Clinical research assistant
- Technical writer
- Hospice care nurse
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
With a generation of baby boomers living longer, technological advancements in medical care, and greater emphasis being placed on preventative measures, the job prospects for nurses are excellent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS predicted 16% growth in employment for registered nurses from 2014 to 2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that the average annual income of registered nurses in May 2015 was $71,000.
Graduates of a master's degree program looking for further educational opportunities in oncology might consider a postgraduate certificate program. Advanced education and professional credentials may lead to increased job opportunities and a potentially higher starting salary.
Since postgraduate certificate programs prepare practicing nurses to obtain the highest level of professional proficiency, these certificate programs are considered to be the last educational track. Students who wish to obtain an advanced degree of education and proficiency in other areas may obtain other professional certificates.
Students who have completed a postgraduate certificate program are poised to take the Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner examination. The criteria to sit for the written examination include an RN license, a master's degree in nursing, 500 hours of supervised clinical practice, and completion of a nurse practitioner program.
A master's degree, a postgraduate certificate or a fellowship program are all options for nurses and doctors interested in specializing in oncology. Graduates can work in a number of different environments related to the field, and they can pursue specialty certification by passing an examination and meeting hands-on and education requirements.