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Oncology Nursing: Job Description & Career Info

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

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Oncology nurses are required to have an associate's degree in nursing and an RN license. Optional certification in oncology is available. Oncology nurses assist in the treatment of patients with cancer.

Essential Information

Oncology nurses work with physicians and other members of interdisciplinary teams to take care of patients with cancer in a variety of settings (hospitals, clinics, etc). To become an oncology nurse, one must first become a registered nurse (RN). From there, one can opt to earn an advanced degree or official certification in oncology nursing. The job requires compassion and personal fortitude to deal with patients suffering from such a profound illness as cancer.

Required Education High school diploma or GED;
associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing (2-4 years)
Licensure & Certification RN licensure;
Certification or advanced degree in oncology nursing optional
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% for all registered nurses*
Median Salary (2015) $67,490 annually for all registered nurses*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Oncology Nursing: Job Description

Oncology nurses care for critically or chronically ill cancer patients. They administer chemotherapy, implement new methods of symptom treatment and monitor their patients' progress. Oncology nurses also create a supportive environment. They may opt to specialize in areas such as pediatric hematology/oncology or breast cancer.

A large portion of an oncology nurse's job is educating cancer patients about treatment options, procedures and particularities of the disease, which requires that she constantly educate herself and keep up with new treatment methods. Oncology nurses must be prepared to work with patients who have been diagnosed with life-threatening conditions. The occupation requires emotional stability to help patients and their families work through the treatment process and cope with death if treatment fails.

Oncology Nursing: Career Information

Job Outlook and Salary Information

The occupational outlook for registered nurses is promising. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), registered nurses are predicted to see a job growth rate of 16% from 2014-2024, which is faster than average for all careers. An aging workforce combined with an aging population may contribute to this growth.

Specialists in advanced nursing practices will be desired, particularly in rural areas and inner cities where more medical professionals are needed. According to the BLS in May, 2015 registered nurses earned a median salary of $67,490.

Education and Licensing Information

Oncology nurses are required to complete diploma, Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs and obtain registered nurse (RN) licenses. Obtaining an RN license requires passing the NCLEX-RN, formally known as the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses.

There are several types of professional certifications for oncology nurses. To qualify for examination through the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation, an oncology nurse must meet minimum requirements, which include:

  • Accumulating at least one year of RN experience
  • Completing 1,000 hours of practice in oncology nursing
  • Maintaining an active RN license

Additional criteria vary based on the type and level of certification desired. There are six types of oncology nurse certification options, with the most basic being the Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN) credential. Areas of examination may include chemotherapy administration, hematology and palliative care.

Many oncology nurses obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree as well. These education programs focus on oncology-related coursework and may qualify graduates to become advanced practice nurses. Common courses include:

  • Advanced health assessment
  • Oncology treatment types
  • Genetic counseling
  • Rural outreach

The job growth expected for registered nurses from 2014-2024 is much faster than average making this a career choice with good job potential. Applicants who have an associate's degree in nursing, their RN license, and optional certification in oncology should be able to compete effectively for positions in this field.

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