How To Become An Oncology Nurse

How To Become An Oncology Nurse

If you’re looking for a career that combines medical expertise with compassion and the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives, becoming an oncology nurse might be the perfect fit for you. 

Oncology nurses play a crucial role in the care and support of cancer patients, providing not only medical treatment but also emotional support during their challenging journey. In this article, we will explore what a career as an oncology nurse is like and the steps to become one.

What Does An Oncology Nurse Do?

oncology nurse

Oncology nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who specialize in caring for patients with cancer or those at risk of developing cancer. They work closely with physicians and other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive cancer care, including prevention, diagnosis, treatment, symptom management, and palliative care. 

Beyond administering medical treatments, they offer emotional support, companionship, and patient education to help individuals cope with the physical and emotional challenges of cancer.

Specializations Within Oncology Nursing

Within the field of oncology nursing, there are various specializations that nurses can pursue based on their interests and skills. Some common specializations include:

Pediatric Oncology: 

Pediatric oncology nurses focus on providing specialized care to children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer. They work with families to help them understand treatment plans and provide emotional support to both the young patients and their loved ones.

Radiation Oncology: 

Radiation oncology nurses assist in administering radiation therapy to cancer patients. They monitor patients during treatment, manage side effects, and offer comfort during this critical phase of cancer care.

Surgical Oncology: 

Surgical oncology nurses work closely with surgeons during cancer-related surgeries. They provide pre-operative and post-operative care, educate patients about the procedures, and ensure a smooth recovery.


Immunotherapy nurses are at the forefront of cutting-edge cancer treatments. They administer immunotherapies, which harness the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells, and closely monitor patients for potential side effects.

Genetic Counseling: 

Genetic counseling nurses specialize in helping patients understand their risk of hereditary cancers. They assess family history, provide genetic testing information, and offer support and guidance for patients and their families.


Hematology nurses focus on treating patients with blood disorders and hematologic cancers. They administer blood transfusions, manage chemotherapy, and educate patients on self-care during treatment.


Chemotherapy nurses are responsible for administering chemotherapy drugs to cancer patients. They monitor patients during infusions, manage side effects, and provide education on managing symptoms at home.

Gynecological Oncology: 

Gynecological oncology nurses care for women with gynecological cancers, such as ovarian, uterine, and cervical cancers. They provide both medical and emotional support during diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.

Bone Marrow Transplantation: 

Bone marrow transplant nurses care for patients undergoing bone marrow or stem cell transplantation. They closely monitor patients during the transplant process and support them throughout their recovery.

Breast Oncology: 

Breast oncology nurses specialize in the care of breast cancer patients. They assist in diagnostic procedures, help patients understand treatment options, and provide ongoing support throughout the cancer journey.

What A Career As An Oncology Nurse Is Like?

A career as an oncology nurse is incredibly rewarding, as you have the opportunity to significantly impact the lives of cancer patients and their families. Here are some aspects of an oncology nursing career:

  • Providing Compassionate Care: Oncology nurses offer not only medical care but also emotional support to patients facing the challenges of cancer. You become a source of strength and companionship during their journey.
  • Lifelong Learning: The field of oncology is constantly evolving with new treatment modalities and research. As an oncology nurse, you will have the opportunity for continuous learning and professional growth.
  • Team Collaboration: Oncology nurses work closely with oncologists, surgeons, radiation therapists, social workers, and other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive cancer care. Team collaboration is essential to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients.
  • Empowering Patients: Oncology nurses educate patients about their condition, treatment options, and self-care during treatment. By providing information and support, you empower patients to actively participate in their care.
  • Coping with Emotions: While rewarding, oncology nursing can also be emotionally challenging. Witnessing the struggles and triumphs of cancer patients can evoke a range of emotions. It is essential to have a strong support system and practice self-care to maintain emotional well-being.
  • Impactful Moments: Celebrating a patient’s remission, witnessing their resilience, and being there for their families during difficult times are some of the many impactful moments an oncology nurse experiences.

Steps Required To Become An Oncology Nurse:

If you have a passion for providing compassionate care to cancer patients and their families, becoming an oncology nurse might be the perfect career path for you. Oncology nurses play a vital role in cancer care, providing direct patient support and managing symptoms under the guidance of physicians and the care team. 

Here, we will explore the essential steps to becoming an oncology nurse and the rewarding opportunities that lie ahead.

Step 1: Earn Your Bachelor Of Science In Nursing (BSN)

The journey to becoming an oncology nurse begins with earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. While it is possible to become an oncology-certified nurse with an associate’s degree, a BSN opens the door to more advanced opportunities in the oncology field later on. 

If you are already a licensed practical nurse (LPN), you might consider an LPN to BSN bridge program. Alternatively, some schools offer accelerated BSN programs for students who hold a bachelor’s degree in another field.

Step 2: Become A Registered Nurse (RN)

After completing your BSN, the next step is to become a registered nurse (RN). If you are not currently a practicing RN, you will need to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam, which assesses your expertise in providing safe care, coping with the demands of the profession, commitment to preventive medicine, and the ability to deliver quality care. 

Once you pass the exam, you can apply for jobs as an RN and explore positions in the oncology field. The time to become an RN can vary depending on your prior education and the chosen degree path.

Step 3: Gain Practical Experience

To gain hands-on experience in the field of oncology, consider volunteering as a nursing assistant in the oncology unit of a hospital or a large cancer center. This opportunity allows you to work directly with oncology patients, providing invaluable experience and insights. 

Additionally, you can supplement your practical knowledge through online courses and resources offered by organizations like the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC).

Step 4: Hone Your Essential Skills

Being an oncology nurse requires unique skills, combining medical expertise with emotional intelligence to provide the best care for patients facing critical health conditions. Some essential skills to hone include:

Communication: Mastering effective communication is crucial for building strong connections with patients and understanding their needs beyond words.

Empathy: Cultivate empathy and compassion to place yourself in your patients’ and their families’ shoes, making decisions based on their well-being.

Collaboration: As part of a comprehensive care team, teamwork, and collaboration are essential in providing the best possible outcomes for patients.

Step 5: Get Certified

While not mandatory, obtaining oncology nursing certification can be highly beneficial. It allows you to specialize in a particular area and enhances your competitiveness in the job market. The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) offers various certifications, including (OCN), (CPHON), and Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN), among others. Choose a certification that aligns with your career goals and interests.

Step 6: Continue Your Education

As an oncology nurse, continuous learning is vital to stay updated with advancements in cancer treatment and patient care. Pursue ongoing education to keep your nursing license and oncology certification current. For OCN-certified nurses, recertification is required every four years. Additionally, consider pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) if you wish to advance your career and explore roles as a nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or in nursing leadership and administration.

Step 7: Specialize Further

In the field of oncology nursing, opportunities for specialization abound. Depending on your interests and career aspirations, consider further specialization in areas like surgical oncology, pediatric oncology, radiation oncology, palliative care, or pain control. Specializing in a particular area allows you to develop expertise and provide specialized care to patients with specific needs.

Step 8: Join Professional Organizations

Joining professional organizations like the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) can be highly advantageous. These organizations offer valuable resources, networking opportunities, and access to the latest research and advancements in oncology nursing. Engaging with peers and experts in the field can enrich your knowledge and help you grow professionally.

Where Can An Oncology Nurse Work?

Hospital Setting

Oncology nurses are commonly found working in hospitals, including general medical centers and specialized cancer treatment centers. In hospitals, they collaborate with multidisciplinary teams to provide comprehensive care to cancer patients.

Cancer Centers

Dedicated cancer centers, focusing solely on cancer care, provide ample opportunities for oncology nurses. These centers offer specialized services and a supportive environment for both patients and staff.

Pediatric Oncology

Pediatric oncology nursing involves caring for children and adolescents with cancer. These specialized nurses require additional training and expertise to address the unique needs of young patients.

Palliative Care

Oncology nurses may work in palliative care, providing comfort and support to patients with advanced cancer and serious illnesses. Palliative care focuses on pain control, symptom management, and emotional support.

Radiation Oncology

Oncology nurses may specialize in radiation oncology, assisting with radiation therapy treatments and supporting patients throughout the process.

Oncology Nurse Salary

The salary of an oncology nurse can vary based on several factors, including experience, education level, location, and the type of healthcare facility they work in. Generally, nurses with more experience and advanced degrees tend to earn higher salaries. The demand for oncology nurses in a specific location and the cost of living in that area can also impact salary levels.

National Average Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average salary for oncology nurses, was $77,600 per year. However, it’s important to note that oncology nurses with specialized certifications or advanced degrees may earn significantly higher salaries.

Benefits And Perks

In addition to their base salary, oncology nurses may receive a range of benefits and perks. These may include health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, and opportunities for continuing education and professional development.

Career Advancement In Oncology Nursing

oncology nurse

Oncology nurses can pursue various specializations and certifications to advance their careers. Obtaining certifications such as the OCN) or Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON) can demonstrate expertise and open doors to higher-paying roles.

Advanced Degrees

Earning advanced degrees, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), can lead to leadership and advanced practice roles in oncology nursing. Advanced degree holders may become nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, or nurse educators in oncology settings.

Leadership Positions

With experience and additional education, oncology nurses can move into leadership positions, such as nurse managers, nurse directors, or chief nursing officers. In these roles, they oversee patient care units or entire healthcare facilities, contributing to organizational strategies and improving patient outcomes.

Research And Education

Some oncology nurses may choose to transition into research or education roles. They can become clinical research nurses, contributing to advancements in cancer treatments and therapies. Others may become nurse educators, sharing their expertise with aspiring nurses and helping shape the future of oncology nursing.

Is Oncology Nursing Difficult?

It is undeniable that oncology nursing requires dedication, compassion, and resilience. Nurses in this field play a crucial role in providing comprehensive care to cancer patients throughout their journey, from diagnosis to treatment and survivorship. While it can be emotionally challenging to witness the impact of cancer on patients and their families, oncology nurses find fulfillment in making a meaningful difference in their patients’ lives.

Challenges Faced By Oncology Nurses

Emotional Strain: Dealing with the emotional toll of caring for patients with life-threatening illnesses can be overwhelming. Oncology nurses often form strong bonds with their patients, which can make the loss of a patient especially difficult to bear.

  • Complexity of Care: Oncology nursing involves managing complex treatment regimens, monitoring patients for adverse reactions, and providing symptom management. Nurses must stay updated with the latest advancements in cancer treatments and therapies.
  • Patient Advocacy: Oncology nurses are advocates for their patients, ensuring they receive the best possible care and support. This may involve navigating complex healthcare systems and coordinating various aspects of patient care.
  • End-of-Life Care: Providing end-of-life care and supporting patients and their families during this challenging time can be emotionally taxing for oncology nurses.
  • High Patient Volume: Oncology units can experience a high patient volume, which can lead to a fast-paced and demanding work environment.

Qualities Of A Good Oncologist:

oncology nurse

Beyond medical knowledge and technical expertise, good oncologists must possess certain personal and interpersonal attributes that enable them to provide the best possible care for their patients. Here, we will explore the essential qualities that make a good oncologist, emphasizing the combination of medical expertise and compassionate care.

Profound Medical Knowledge And Expertise

First and foremost, a good oncologist must possess a deep understanding of oncology and the complexities of cancer. This includes a comprehensive knowledge of different types of cancer, their stages, treatments, and the latest advancements in oncological research. Continuously staying updated with medical literature and attending conferences are vital for providing cutting-edge care.

Strong Analytical And Diagnostic Skills

Cancer diagnosis often involves complex tests and evaluations. A good oncologist must have strong analytical skills to interpret test results accurately and diagnose the type and stage of cancer effectively. Precision in diagnosis is crucial as it determines the treatment plan and prognosis for the patient.

Empathy And Compassion

One of the most vital qualities of a good oncologist is empathy and compassion. Dealing with cancer can be emotionally overwhelming for patients and their families. A compassionate oncologist understands the fear and uncertainty faced by patients and provides emotional support throughout their journey. This empathy helps build trust and strengthens the patient-doctor relationship.

Effective Communication Skills

Clear and effective communication is essential in oncology. A good oncologist must be able to explain complex medical information in a way that patients and their families can understand. They should listen attentively to their patients’ concerns and address any questions or doubts with patience and empathy.

Dedication And Perseverance

Oncology often presents challenging cases that require dedication and perseverance. A good oncologist remains committed to finding the best treatment options for their patients, even in the face of difficult and rare cancers. They are persistent in exploring all available avenues to provide the highest quality of care.

Team Player And Collaborator

Oncology is a multidisciplinary field, and a good oncologist understands the importance of teamwork. They collaborate with surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, and other specialists to develop comprehensive treatment plans tailored to each patient’s needs.

Strong Decision-Making Skills

oncology nurse

Oncologists often encounter critical situations that require quick and decisive decision-making. A good oncologist can weigh the risks and benefits of different treatment options and make well-informed decisions in the best interest of their patients.

Continuous Learning And Adaptability

The field of oncology is constantly evolving with new research and treatment modalities emerging regularly. A good oncologist is committed to lifelong learning and stays open to adopting innovative approaches that could benefit their patients.

Resilience And Coping Skills

Being an oncologist can be emotionally demanding, as it involves dealing with challenging cases and sometimes witnessing loss. A good oncologist must have resilience and coping skills to manage the emotional toll of their profession effectively.

Patient Advocacy

A good oncologist is not only a medical practitioner but also an advocate for their patients. They ensure that their patients receive the best possible care, including access to clinical trials, support services, and resources to improve their overall quality of life.


A career as an oncology nurse offers a unique blend of medical expertise, compassion, and the chance to touch lives profoundly. As a crucial part of the cancer care team, oncology nurses provide not only medical treatments but also emotional support and guidance to patients and their families. 

By specializing in various areas within oncology nursing, professionals have the opportunity to contribute to cutting-edge treatments and advancements in cancer care. If you have a passion for helping others and a commitment to lifelong learning, pursuing a career as an oncology nurse can be deeply fulfilling and meaningful.


Can I Specialize In A Specific Type Of Oncology Nursing?

Yes, as an oncology nurse, you can choose to specialize in various areas, such as pediatric oncology, radiation oncology, or oncology research. Specializing allows you to focus on specific patient populations or aspects of cancer care that align with your interests and career goals.

How Can I Gain Practical Experience In Oncology Nursing?

To gain practical experience, consider seeking internships or volunteer opportunities at oncology units or cancer centers. Additionally, many hospitals offer oncology-specific nurse residency programs to help new graduates acclimate to the field.

How Can I Stay Updated On The Latest Advancements In Oncology Nursing?

Oncology nursing is a dynamic field with continuous advancements in research and treatment options. To stay updated, consider joining professional organizations such as the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) or attending conferences and seminars dedicated to oncology nursing. These resources provide access to the latest developments, best practices, and networking opportunities with fellow oncology nurses.

Are There Any Professional Organizations For Oncology Nurses?

Yes, several professional organizations cater to oncology nurses, providing resources, networking opportunities, and continuing education. Organizations like the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) and the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses (APHON) are excellent platforms for staying updated on industry trends, research, and advancements in oncology nursing.

Can I Specialize In Oncology Right After Nursing School?

While some nurses may start their careers in oncology right after nursing school, most positions in oncology nursing require some experience in general nursing practice. Gaining experience in areas like medical-surgical nursing, critical care, or surgical nursing can be beneficial before transitioning to oncology. Oncology nursing involves complex patient care, and experience in other nursing specialties can help build valuable skills.

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