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Oncology Nurse Career

How to Become an Oncology Nurse

Cancer. Nobody wants to hear that dreaded diagnosis. According to the American Cancer Society, over 1.9 million people were diagnosed with cancer in 2021, and more than 608,000 died from it. Nearly everyone has been impacted by cancer—most people have a loved one, acquaintance, or friend who’s been affected by cancer. Many have even had personal battles with it. Because cancer is such a widespread, dangerous, and intimidating disease, the healthcare providers who work with cancer patients are one of the most important resources in helping fighters and their families be prepared for the long road ahead.

The field of healthcare that focuses on cancer is labeled with the term “oncology.” Oncology is the study and treatment of tumors, so oncologists are the doctors who work with cancer patients, and oncology nurses are the nurses who work with cancer patients.

Oncology nurse looking at medicine

What Is an Oncology Nurse?

An oncology nurse is a nurse who works specifically with those battling cancer. Oncology nurses are a major force for good in helping cancer patients. They help them with their medicine, mitigate symptoms, help explain what’s going on, and attend to patients’ families during treatments. 

If you’re currently a nurse or want to become a nurse, oncology can be a wonderful and rewarding field to work in. Learn more about what oncology nurses do and how you can become one.

What Does an Oncology Nurse Do?

Oncology nursing involves many duties and tasks that nurses are responsible for every day. Some of these nursing duties include:

  • Monitoring the condition of cancer patients
  • Running tests and evaluations
  • Prescribing and administering medicine and managing symptoms for patients
  • Offering education to patients and their families
  • Administering chemotherapy
  • Managing chemotherapy side effects
  • Assessing cancer patients' physical, mental, and emotional needs
  • Helping create concrete goals for care
  • Communicating the patient's status to family members and other staff
  • Working in both hospital and clinical settings
  • Acting as an advocate for the patient to family and other members of the care team

Oncology nursing allows nurses to additionally specialize further in fields like surgical oncology, radiation oncology, immunotherapy, genetic counseling, and more. 

The work in this nursing field is very similar to the work of other registered nurses, but they do have specialized techniques, medications, and symptoms they treat. For example, while they’re in charge of checking a patient’s vital signs and managing their symptoms, they may have to work with specific chemotherapy symptoms and side effects instead of other illnesses. Cancer patients are often in a great deal of pain, so dosage amounts are often much higher.

How Do I Become an Oncology Nurse?

There are a few steps you need to take in order to become an oncology nurse. The steps include:

  • Becoming a registered nurse
  • Earning a BSN
  • Gaining experience
  • Getting certified
  • Pursuing continuing education

Learn more about the specific steps to becoming an oncology nurse.

Oncology nurse education requirements

In order to become an oncology nurse, you’ll have to start by becoming a registered nurse. You can either pursue a BSN that will prepare you to become an RN or you can earn a nursing diploma or associate degree and become an RN. In your diploma or degree program, you'll complete important coursework, participate in clinical experience, and become prepared to take the NCLEX exam. The exact requirements to become a registered nurse will vary from state to state. Once you pass the exam, you’ll receive your license and be ready to work.

Earning a BSN if you’re an RN

If you are currently an RN and don’t have a BSN, this additional credential can be extremely helpful in pursuing a nursing specialization. As a working RN, you may think you don’t have time to go back to school and get a BSN. But with online schools like WGU, earning your BSN is possible. You can earn your BSN degree completely online, anywhere, any time. This allows you to continue to work full-time and maintain your other responsibilities while earning your degree.

How to be certified as an OCN

Certification as an oncology nurse will vary from state to state, but the requirements are fairly similar. If you want to become an oncology certified nurse, you will have to take the Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN) nurse exam which is issued by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation. In order to take the exam, you have to have one year of experience as an RN and at least 1,000 hours of adult oncology nursing practice. The certification exam will also require you to have 10 contact hours of nursing education in oncology or take an elective in oncology nursing.

Pursuing continuing education as an oncology nurse

Once you’ve met the requirements and passed your exam, you’ll be a licensed oncology nurse! In order to keep your certification, you’ll likely have continuing education courses and experience requirements. This certification will help you increase your salary as well as prepare you for the demands and rigors of an oncology nursing career.

If you’re interested in becoming an oncology nurse, WGU can be the perfect place to start. A bachelor’s degree in nursing can help you be prepared for the specific skills and knowledge you’ll need, as well as help you be prepared with a résumé that will stand out.

What Degrees are Best for an Oncology Nurse?

Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a baccalaureate-prepared nurse:

  • Locations: offered in FL, IN, TX, MO, and UT only.
  • Tuition and fees: $6,575 per 6-month term.

WGU offers the prelicensure program in areas where we have partnerships with healthcare employers to provide practice sites and clinical coaches to help teach you and inspire you on your path to becoming a nurse.

If you don't live in one of our prelicensure states or don't qualify to apply, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.

Nursing – Leadership and Management (RN-to-MSN) – M.S.

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap toward becoming a nurse leader.

  • Time: 75% of RN-to-MSN grads finish within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,795 per 6-month term during undergraduate portion, $4,385 per 6-month term during graduate portion, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

If you're driven to lead, this online nursing degree will provide you everything needed to make that career a reality.

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This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

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Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking...

An online BSN degree program for registered...

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added theoretical depth, employability, and respect that a bachelor's degree brings:

  • Time: 66% of graduates finish within 18 months.
  • Tuition and Fees: $3,795 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.
  • Transfers: On average, students transfer 81 credits.

With over 35,000 BSN alumni, this is one of WGU's most popular online degree programs. View our RN to BSN degree guide.

If you don't currently have an RN and don't qualify for your nursing prelicensure program, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry in a unique way.

Nursing – Leadership and Management (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S.

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for greater responsibility:

  • Time: 82% of grads finish within 24 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,385 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

Compare Similar Degrees

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Young sick girl staying at a hospital

What Skills Does an Oncology Nurse Need?

Because working with cancer patients can be emotionally taxing, a successful home health care nurse should have a positive attitude and be lighthearted. They should be excellent problem-solvers that work well one-on-one with patients. Home care nurses are responsible for many aspects of a cancer patient's life, so they need to be ready to take on that challenge. Some important skills for home health nursing include:

  • Integrity. Clients and their families rely on you to provide safe and effective care. Thus, you need to be dependable and trustworthy and act with integrity—especially when handling personal activities such as helping your client bathe. Cancer care nurses are often directly involved with the patient and their family on a regular basis, so building a friendly relationship with them is key.
  • Physical stamina. You’ll need both mental and physical strength to work as an oncology nurse. You may regularly perform physical tasks such as lifting or turning clients.
  • Interpersonal skills. Your clients may often be in extreme pain or distress, so you must be compassionate and keenly sensitive to their emotions. You should also enjoy helping others and developing close relationships through excellent verbal and interpersonal communication skills.
  • Being detail-oriented. As an oncology nurse, you’ll need to adhere to set protocols and rules—and also carefully follow patient care instructions while monitoring their condition. Being organized and detail-oriented are essential skills that can significantly impact a patient’s well-being.

How Much Does an Oncology Nurse Make?

$87,000

According to ZipRecruiter, the national average annual salary for oncology nurses in 2021 is $87,340. The top seven percent can make more than $138,500 per year. Pay can vary depending on the state and level of education and experience. 

What Is the Projected Job Growth?

9%

The BLS projects that the demand for registered nurses will grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030, resulting in more than 276,000 additional jobs in the field. Oncology nurses may be in even greater demand as they require an elevated skill set and a greater level of certification. 

Where Do Oncology Nurses Work?

Varies

Oncology nurses can work in a number of different settings including hospitals, cancer centers, outpatient care facilities, private practices, clinics, and long-term care facilities.

 

Interested in Becoming an Oncology Nurse?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.

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