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What is Oncology Nursing?

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  • Written By: Jodee Redmond
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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Oncology nursing is the branch of this profession that is focused on caring for cancer patients. Health care professionals who choose to specialize in this area may be working with patients of all ages. Pediatric oncology nursing is a further specialization within this field.

This field of nursing was first recognized in the early 1970s. Previously, the main treatment option for patients diagnosed with cancer was for doctors to perform surgery to remove the tumors. Nurses would provide care for the patient before and after the procedure.

As survival rates for cancer patients started to improve due to improved cancer research, the role of the oncologist became more important. Patients and their doctors developed a treatment plan together, and the registered nurse was part of the treatment team. This change in how cancer was treated led to an increased role for nurses, and now oncology nursing is one of the many areas where they can choose to work.

Oncology nursing may involve the nurse caring for patients directly. Some nurses in this field work in more senior positions where they are involved in the administration of a health care facility that works with cancer patients. Other employment opportunities for oncology nurses exist in the area of education. They may be asked to share their knowledge about cancer and the treatment of this disease with other staff, family members, or the public.

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The field of oncology nursing also includes research. The oncology nurse may be asked to identify issues or problems that can be the focus of research. Once the results of a research study have been released, the oncology nurse can incorporate the findings into policies for treating cancer patients.

There are several steps involved in becoming a qualified oncology nurse. The first one is to complete an undergraduate degree program and the requirements to become a registered nurse. To get certified as an oncology specialist, the nurse would take continuing education courses and get on-the-job experience working with cancer patients.

Nurse practitioners can also work in the field of oncology nursing. These health care professionals have completed the requirements for a Master's degree in nursing. Part of the requirements for getting certified as an oncology nurse practitioner is to complete several hundred hours of clinical work under the supervision of experienced staff members.

Some jurisdictions require that people who want to work in the field of oncology nursing be certified. Others suggest that cancer nurses be certified but do not require it. The professional organization in your jurisdiction can provide information about the requirements for your area.

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sunshined
Post 4

@honeybees - An oncology nurse practitioner would make more than a nurse, but where I work, most of the nurse salaries are set more by seniority and the shift they work.

My niece is an oncology nurse, and she was not required to complete any oncology nursing certification. She transferred to this floor from the cardiac floor and did not have to complete any required certification to work here.

The average oncology nurse in the US makes around $65,000 a year, but of course you won't usually start out making that. If you work the night shift, you would also make more as an incentive.

Each floor has their challenges, but I do agree that it takes the right kind of person to work with cancer patients every day.

honeybees
Post 3

My daughter is currently in nursing school and she hasn't decided yet which area she would like to pursue. At some point during her training she will get the chance to work in some of these areas personally.

I know when my dad had cancer and spent a lot of time in the hospital, he had some great oncology nurses. Even though they deal this every day, they were able to stay upbeat and encouraging.

Is an oncology nursing salary any different than working as a nurse in any other specialty? I imagine it might be higher if you were certified, but am wondering if it is about the same if you were not certified and just worked on an oncology floor.

SarahSon
Post 2

@julies - There seems to always be a turnover when it comes to oncology nursing jobs at the hospital where I work. I think some of that is the emotional issues you were talking about.

When many of the patients leave this floor, they are being sent to a hospice facility for their final days. It would be really hard to cope with this and see the sorrow the family is going through too.

I work in pediatrics, and we sure have our share of heartbreaking situations, but we also see a lot of encouraging things that gives our work a nice balance.

I have a lot of respect for the seasoned oncology nurses. I think it takes a special person to be able to do this, and the patients know when they have someone who truly cares.

julies
Post 1

One of my good friends has worked as an oncology nurse at a local hospital for many years. She enjoys nursing, but I don't know how she has been able to work on the cancer floor for so long.

I think it would really start to get to me after awhile. I know she has her really hard days, but she just focuses on giving her patients the best possible care she can.

Depending on how long or how often she has a patient, she has developed some bonds with some of them and their families. I think there would be a fine line between remaining professional and yet showing compassion and caring at the same time.

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