What is an Oncology Nurse?

What is an Oncology Nurse?

What is an Oncology NurseNursing is a rewarding and fantastic career that takes time, dedication, and perseverance. The right person for a nursing career is one that is ready to help anyone they can and go that extra mile to get the education they need to in order to make the biggest difference. For some, being an RN is not enough, and they have a desire to specialize, such as becoming an oncology nurse.

What is an Oncology Nurse?

Oncology is the treatment of cancer, and nurses that specialize in this field have a very unique job. An oncology nurse is one that cares for those cancer patients either undergoing treatment, trying to find viable treatment options or those that have beaten cancer and are on their way back to a normal life. An oncology nurse is someone that is there through every step of the journey to recovery and for every bump in the road. These nurses work to make their patients comfortable, to help administer treatment, and to make sure that they have someone for every step of the path.

There is a large call for oncology nurses. Working in this field will put you on the path of a slightly different treatment cycle that not many nurses see every day. As a normal RN, you may see someone for a few days then they are back home, hopefully, healthy again. As an oncology nurse, you may see someone for an extended period of time, growing close to them as they battle their highs and their lows. You may even be with a patient as they lose the ultimate fight.

What Does an Oncology Nurse Do?

Oncology nurses do a great deal of work that you may not know about. They teach cancer prevention as well as provide details about different types of cancer to patients and their families. They also provide cancer screening, navigation and management, research, and cancer patient care.

Oncology nurses may specialize within the oncology field as well. They may work in hematology, bone marrow transplants, immunotherapy, gynecologic oncology, chemotherapy, surgery and more. They can work in a huge range of different settings including hospitals, cancer clinics, doctor’s offices, and other special facilities.

Why is an Oncology Nurse so Important?

For those that are suffering from cancer, it may be helpful and reassuring to have a nurse that is going to stay the entire course with you. These nurses provide more than just the medical side of cancer treatment. They also provide the companionship, compassion, and comfort that is needed throughout the treatment process. They are also a go-between that can help patients understand certain processes and situations.

An oncology nurse will have the information patients need to be successful and get through their treatment. Their knowledge and experience in the field can help guide patients and their families—answering questions and reassuring fears along the way.

How to Become an Oncology Nurse

The first step to becoming an oncology nurse is to become an RN by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college. In order to become a full-fledged nurse, you’ll have to take the NCLEX-RN test that will allow you to get licensed in the state that you are working.

Once licensed you will need to start your career by working with one specific population of patients. This is going to help you to get better acquainted with the specific ailments that afflict these patients and how to help them. Here you can either learn special cancer care skills through coursework, clinical experience, or continuing education. After gaining enough knowledge and on-the-job experience you can take a special test that will allow you to be an Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN).

If you desire to become an oncology nurse practitioner, you will need to achieve a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, seek recognition through your state board of nursing as an advanced practice nurse (APN), then accrue at least 500 hours of supervised clinical practice in oncology (either during or after your master’s program) to be eligible to take the oncology nurse certification examination to become an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP).

Oncology Nurse Career Outlook

Not all people are cut out for working in the cancer field. It can be quite emotional as you get to know patients and their family members. Many oncology nurses spend time educating the public about cancer care and prevention as well, which can be intimidating for some.

Needed Skills

Oncology nurses need to be able to talk with, teach, and relate to people. They will also need to be able to think on their feet, remember different treatments, manage their time and prioritize the amount of work to do. They need patience and compassion and will have many opportunities to make use of their leadership skills as they work with other healthcare professionals.

Oncology Nurse Salary and Employment

Oncology is a very specialized subset of nursing, of which the need is great. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average oncology nurse’s salary is around $68,000 per year. This is higher than the average $40,000 for a typical RN. You can get a higher salary if you have a BSN or an MSN.

Oncology nursing is a steadily growing career. With cancer on the rise, the need for them has never been greater. Pursuing this career could put you in the path of both the young and the old, the male and the female patients.

Top 5 Specialties

Here are five of the most popular specialties that fall within the oncology nursing subset.

1. Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse – pediatric oncology nurses work with children that have blood cancer disorders. This is a very special subset of oncology nursing and can be very stressful and heartbreaking.

2. Certified Breast Cancer Nurse – this type of nurse works with women and men (though rare) that are fighting breast cancer. They may help with those that are having mammograms to find out if there are any issues. They may also help with things like administering treatment or discussing treatment options.

3. Blood and Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse Practitioner – this type of oncology nurse works with bone marrow collection and transplants. This type of nurse will work with patients of all ages and all types.

4. Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner – this type of nurse is going to have the ability to write prescriptions, make orders, and do just about anything that a doctor can do.

5. Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist – this type of nurse is going to specialize in the treatment of cancer and will be very involved with plenty of responsibility.

Oncology Nurse FAQ

Q. Do you have to be a nurse to get into an oncology nurse program?
A. No, but it does help. You can set your course of study to focus on oncology if you want before you are ever a registered nurse.

Q. Do oncology nurses provide end of life care?
A. In some cases, you will be present for the end of life care with your patients.

Q. Does an oncology nurse administer chemotherapy?
A. An oncology nurse can administer chemotherapy if they are certified to do so.

Q. Does an oncology nurse only work with people that have cancer?
A. They work mainly with those that do have cancer but they also teach cancer prevention and various other cancer education.

Q. Do oncology nurses make more money?
A. Oncology nurses do tend to make more money. Additionally, you can find hospitals or other health clinics that pay good sign-on bonuses for an oncology nurse’s service.

Helpful Organizations

There are plenty of helpful organizations that can get you the information that you need to become a successful and happy oncology nurse.

Oncology Nursing Society

International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care

Association of Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurses

Academy of Oncology Nurse and patient Navigators

Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association

Oncology Nurse Scholarship Opportunities

Take a look at our scholarship for those wanting to pursue a career in oncology nursing.


Oncology is a difficult field to get into. With the right education, the right information, and the right drive, anyone can become a fantastic oncology nurse that has the ability to make a difference in the lives of those that are suffering from cancer.

If you want to learn more or become an oncology nurse contact us today to find out more.

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