How to Become an Oncology Nurse

If you’ve always wanted to become an oncology nurse, this post is for you. Or maybe you’re an experienced nurse considering transitioning to the specialty? We’ve got you covered.

Nurses are in high demand across the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute, one-quarter of new cancer cases are diagnosed in individuals between the ages of 65 and 74. Cancer affects all individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and medical histories. In 2021, there were over 1.9 million cancer diagnoses in the United States alone. One would imagine that oncology nurses are a rare breed, inundated with requests for their expertise, but it is not so simple. How does one become an oncology nurse?

Oncology nurses care for all ages of diagnosed cancer patients and focus on meeting their emotional, spiritual, and physical needs. Despite the difficulties of the work, many nurses find that a career in oncology is gratifying.

To position yourself for career opportunities in oncology nursing, you also must meet some educational and experience requirements. Let’s dig in!

What is an Oncology Nurse?

An Oncology Nurse is a registered nurse specializing in caring for cancer patients. Oncology nurses use their knowledge of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other treatments to educate patients on the care they need when diagnosed with cancer.

Oncology nursing requires extensive education to provide the highest levels of patient care. Your path will depend largely on your previous education and certification history.

Nurses who have already earned bachelor’s degrees in another field or specialty may be able to transition into an oncology nursing program directly without losing any credits. Those seeking immediate employment can also use volunteer experience in hospitals, hospice agencies, or clinics to qualify for advanced placement in accredited RN-to-MSN programs in North America.

Because of their constantly changing field, oncology nurses must stay current with the latest developments and treatment methods. Many nurses earn a post-graduate degree in nursing or medicine to make themselves even more marketable. Also, by working toward higher education, many nurses can take on greater responsibility and leadership roles within their hospital systems.

Here Are Five Steps You Can Take to Become an Oncology Nurse:

Following are some educational requirements and steps that you have to follow to start a career in oncology nursing.

1: Earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing, BSN

The first place to start is by becoming a registered nurse (RN), preferably with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. An oncology nurse must have some experience with clinical care, so while making your BSN, you can also enroll in an accredited RN-to-BSN program.

If you’re already an LPN, you can enroll in an accelerated BSN program to compensate for lost time. You can join any nursing school for this program.

2: Become an RN

After you’ve graduated nursing school, you’ll need to take and pass the NCLEX.

If you’re not a practicing registered nurse, you must sit for the NCLEX-RN exam once you have earned your BSN. This certifies you as a registered nurse and allows you to enter the workforce immediately after completing school. Because you will need to pass this exam, it is highly advised that you enroll in a nursing program close to where you live or work to focus on completing your clinical rotations and still be able to study.

3: Gain Experience as an RN

Before beginning your oncology nurse training, it’s essential to gain as much experience working with cancer patients as possible. Your employer may offer opportunities for supplemental education through continuing education courses and workshops.

Some employers even offer flexible scheduling options like night and weekend classes to assist their nurses with maintaining full-time employment while attending school. You can also get clinical experience.

4: Get Certified

Becoming a certified oncology nurse can improve your ability to get jobs and increase your nursing salary.

To become certified as an oncology nurse specialist, you must learn specific cancer care skills through coursework, clinical practice, or continuing education. After gaining enough knowledge and on-the-job experience, you can take an exam to become an Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN).

These certifications are available depending on your experience and interests:

  • Oncology Certified Nurse (ONC®)
  • Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON®)
  • Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN®)
  • Blood and Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse (BMTCN®)
  • Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP®)
  • Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist (AOCNS®)

 5: Continue Your Education

Continue your journey of education by enrolling in an oncology nurse practitioner program. This will enable you to become a more effective leader within your organization. It will sharpen your skills in assessing and diagnosing patients because you are one step closer to becoming a physician.

If you want to work with patients with cancer on an administrative level, you can enroll in continuing nursing education courses or gain certification as an oncology nurse manager. These positions typically require demonstrated leadership ability and prior experience supervising other healthcare staff members.

What Does an Oncology Nurse Do?

Experienced oncology nurses work around the clock caring for their patients before and after implementing treatment plans. They must be able to anticipate patient needs to provide superior care at all times. They may even need to make lifestyle changes for their patients by providing nutrition guidance or helping them access support groups and other resources.

Oncology specialists must work well in a medical team environment, demonstrating outstanding leadership abilities. This is why you must get experience working with the different types of people that will comprise your future healthcare team from day one.

Patient Assessment

One of the main things an oncology nurse does is patient assessment. This means they assess patients who have cancer treatment side effects. They also evaluate and monitor patients before, during, and after chemotherapy. This means they have to be able to understand pathology results and what they mean.

Patient Education and Communication

They must also have interpersonal communication skills because they must also listen to patients, assess their understanding of the disease, and understand their emotional state.

It’s the oncology nurse’s job to educate the patient about the disease and how to deal with the expected side effects of the treatments. They will also communicate with the patient’s family about side effects and how to care for their ill family member.

Coordinating Patient Care

Another responsibility they have is direct patient care – including coordinating treatments and tests. They have to keep detailed records so that the patient has continuity of care within the nursing team and across the multi-disciplinary group that manages the patient’s disease.

They are also responsible for organizing referrals for patients to other healthcare providers.

Administer Medication, Including Chemotherapy

If you work in oncology, you will usually be responsible for administering chemotherapy drugs to patients. You also have to manage the symptoms of the disease and the side effects of these treatments.

What Becoming an Oncology Nurse Means

Becoming an oncology nurse is a dream many healthcare professionals have had since childhood. Whether you want to specialize in another specialty within oncology nursing or become a leader in this outstanding field, earning your bachelor of science in nursing degree opens the door to endless opportunities for growth and success!

Is Becoming an Oncology Nurse Right For You?

This nursing specialty requires a lot of emotional strength. From days when you celebrate victories, to days where you practice palliative care, you will go through all the feelings. And even with all of that, this is one job where you genuinely feel like you are making a difference.

Oncology Nursing FAQ

What Are the Education Requirements for an Oncology Nurse?

A BSN degree is considered the standard in the oncology nurse profession but accelerated BSN programs are available for nurses with an LPN certification.

What Are the Licensing Requirements for an Oncology Nurse?

To practice as a registered nurse, you will have to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam and become a licensed RN in your state, which typically requires either a Bachelor’s diploma or associate’s degree in nursing.

How Much Can You Expect to Make When Working As an Oncology Nurse?

According to, the annual salary of oncology nurses can be between $40,059 and $78,731. The salary depends on location, experience, and certifications and it varies widely. According to PayScale, the average hourly rate is $33.38.

What Is the Difference Between Oncology Nursing Certification Programs?

The Oncology Nursing Certification Program (ONCP) is offered through the Oncology Nursing Society. The American Nurses Credentialing Center provides oncology nurses accredited by ANCC-COA and recognized by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The third option, administered by the National Cancer Institute, certifies oncology nurse practitioners.

What Is an Oncology Nurse Leader?

Oncology nurse leaders typically have previous experience in administration or supervisory positions. They are adept at facilitating teamwork among their employees while also demonstrating outstanding leadership abilities.

What oncology nurse certifications are available?

Oncology Certified Nurse (ONC®)
Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON®)
Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN®)
Blood and Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse (BMTCN®)
Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP®)
Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist (AOCNS®)

Where Do Oncology Nurses Work?

In recent years, hospitals with midsize to large campuses often have an oncology team that manages patient diagnoses and treatments. Some patients with rare forms of cancer may seek innovative remedies at highly regarded hospitals or teaching facilities; these facilities are magnets for nurses who wish to be at the cutting edge of cancer treatment.

What Leadership Positions Are Available for ADN Nurses?

Bachelor’s degree nurses are RNs who have completed a 4-year degree program. A 2-year associate’s degree in nursing is the minimum degree requirement to become licensed as an RN. BSN nurses work in many of the same roles as ADN nurses. However, they have more career opportunities in areas including leadership.

What Does an Oncology Nurse Do?

The hematology/oncology nurses provide advanced medical care to cancer or blood disorder patients. They are part of a highly trained team that includes the patient’s family, doctors, specialists, and other interdisciplinary healthcare team members.

What Are the Roles & Duties of an Oncology Nurse?

Provide care to cancer patients suffering from acute or chronic illnesses caused by cancer or exacerbating conditions
Monitor the patient’s condition, prescribe medication, and manage symptoms through sharing strategies with the patient and family
Educate and support patients’ families
Provide end-of-life care with empathy and dignity
Manage the immediate and long-term side effects of chemotherapy
Assess cancer patients’ physical, psychosocial, and spiritual needs and status
Plan and implement a care plan based on concrete goals
Utilizes communication methods and skills to convey information to patients, families, and staff
Responsible for own professional development
Demonstrate expertise in safety and legal issues
Assists the interdisciplinary team and family members in advocating for patient needs

Why Pursue Oncology Nurse Training?

The answer to this question depends on you and your motivation for this. There is a strong demand and growing need for oncology nurses who assist the patient’s family in understanding the medical condition and treatment procedures and who provide comfort to patients with this life-threatening illness— basically, you can get a good-paying job as an Oncology Nurse with outstanding benefits like medical, vision, dental, etc.

More Nursing Specialties:

If oncology nursing doesn’t strike your fancy, have no fear. The are hundreds of nursing specialties and career paths. We have written many guides about other nursing jobs, too. Browse through them and dream about the perfect nursing specialty that compliments your strengths.  

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