Oncology Nurse: Career Summary, Job Outlook, and Education Requirements

Find out the daily tasks and training requirements for an oncology nursing career. Learn about certification, employment outlook and median salaries for nurses. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Might Be My Job Duties as an Oncology Nurse?

As an oncology nurse, you would provide medical care and emotional support to patients undergoing treatment for cancer. Your duties might include assessing patient health; assisting with patient examinations and diagnoses; consulting with physicians and specialists about treatment plans; assisting with the administration of chemotherapy and radiation; monitoring, evaluating and recording treatment results; and writing and filing reports. You also might explain treatment procedures to patients, advise patients on disease prevention and personal care, supervise assisting nurses and maintain records.

What Are My Employment Prospects?

Hospitals, outpatient facilities, physicians' offices and home care agencies are among your possible employers. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not offer specific figures for oncology nurses, it did report that registered nurses (RNs) in general held about 2.6 million jobs in 2008 (www.bls.gov). The BLS further noted that, from 2008-2018, employment of RNs was projected to increase 22% to 3.2 million jobs. Job growth was expected to be strongest in outpatient and home care facilities as technological advances make the provision of medical care possible in a wider variety of facilities and environments. Salary.com reported that, as of August 2011, oncology nurses earned a median annual salary of $64,072.

What Education Do I Need?

To become an oncology nurse, you must first become a registered nurse, which typically requires earning an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing. Formal training programs for oncology nurses are offered as master's programs or post-master's certificate programs, many of which will require you to have a bachelor's degree.

Nurse practitioner master's degree programs with an oncology specialization can train you in advanced practice skills, such as prescribing medication, interpreting diagnostic tests and providing primary care. Courses also might cover the types, causes and treatment of cancer. Post-master's certificate programs presume you already have nurse practitioner training and are focused on the disease itself. Courses in either program type typically examine cancer pathophysiology, epidemiology and genetics, palliative care and symptom management. Programs incorporate both classroom study and clinical practicums that involve you directly in cancer patient care.

What Certification Could I Obtain?

As of November 2010, the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) certified roughly 31,000 oncology nurses in the U.S. (www.oncc.org). ONCC offers five certification options, including Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN), Certified Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Nurse (CPHON), Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP), Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist (AOCNS) and Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN). Each certification has an associated exam consisting of 165 multiple-choice questions, which you must pass to earn the designation.

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