The Job of an Oncology Nurse

An oncology nurse specializes in the provision of care to patients undergoing treatment for cancer under the supervision of doctors who develop the care strategies. As an oncology nurse you can work with people of all ages but may specialize with one particular group such as children.

Oncology Nurse Philosophy

There is a multifactor effect of cancer not really seen with other diseases and oncology nursing is about dealing with them all. An oncology nurse will work in collaboration with the patient and very often families and friends in areas of detection, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care, as well as in prevention following a recovery or remission. There is an underlying ethic that states that empowerment to deal with cancer is through education at all stages of the process.

Education and Expected Salary

In order to qualify to work as an oncology nurse you must first be a registered nurse and then gain one of six possible certifications, three basics and three advanced.

The options are offered by The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation and at their most basic level are:

  • OCN – Oncology Certified Nurse
  • CPON – Certified Pediatric Oncology Nurse
  • CBCN – Certified Breast Car Nurse

For advanced certification there is a minimum requirement of a Master’s Degree in Nursing and a minimum of 500 hours of supervised clinical practice of oncology nursing. The advanced certificates are:

  • AOCN – Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse
  • AOCNP – Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner
  • AOCNS – Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist

Once you gain certification, it will need to be renewed every four years by taking a re-certification test or by having earned sufficient continuing medical education credits.

You may also wish to specialize in chemotherapy and there is a cancer chemotherapy program run by the Oncology Nursing Society. This is a course that is aimed at consistent oncology nurse practice rather than a qualification but does validate your competency for two years.

As an oncology nurse, continuing education is important and you will need to keep up with the changes that make an impact on your profession. Cancer is the subject of intensive research and there are ongoing developments in detection and treatment.

The starting salary for oncology nurses is around $35,000 and nurses with advanced oncology certification can earn from $60,000 up to $125,000.

Scope of Oncology Nurse Jobs

Oncology nurses work in both in-patient and out-patient care in hospitals, clinics, National Cancer Institute-designed cancer centers or community cancer settings including hospices, physician’s offices or nursing schools. Outside of clinical care an oncology nurse may work in occupational health (cancer patients returning to work) or with pharmaceutical companies and research organizations.

There are various disciplines within the range of oncology nursing:

  • Chemotherapy – biotherapy
  • Hematology Oncology
  • Breast Oncology
  • Surgical oncology – radiation
  • Head and neck oncology – GYN oncology
  • Cancer genetic counseling – bone marrow transplant
  • Symptom management – prevention and early detection
  • Palliative care

Roles of an Oncology Nurse

The role of an oncology nurse can involve giving direct care, coordinating activities for the patient or a number of patients, acting as a consultant or educator to the family and friends of a patient and to other non-oncology nurses, a direct care giver, and undertaking administration or research. Each patient will have a plan of care devised by the consulting physician or senior oncology nurse and it is the responsibility of the oncology nurse to deliver to the needs of the plan.

In a clinical setting the patient plan will cover the entire time of stay from admission to discharge and the tasks of the oncology nurse will consist of routine jobs as well as specific jobs specified by the plan. Outside of hospital and clinics, the roles of an oncology nurse will also follow a patient plan but the duties to the patient will differ according to the care giving setting.

An oncology nurse has a good deal of interaction with a patient’s family and friends and the nature of cancer requires strength of mind. If you possess this and a highly sympathetic nature, oncology nursing could be for you.


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