Nurses are the heart of healthcare — and oncology nurses have some of the biggest hearts for their patients.
From offering counseling and support to giving medication to assisting with end-of-life care, the job of an oncology nurse is exciting, rewarding, heartbreaking, and always changing.
And we need more passionate and caring nurses just like you.
If you’re wondering what an oncology nurse does — and why oncology nursing may be the right field for you — we’ll explain it all. Keep reading to find out the responsibilities of an oncology nurse, pros and cons of the job, frequently asked questions, and more.
Table of Contents
- What Is It Like to Be an Oncology Nurse?
- What Do Oncology Nurses Do?
- 6 Responsibilities of an Oncology Nurse
- Is Oncology Nursing Difficult?
- 5 Pros of Working in Oncology
- 2 Cons of Working in Oncology
- Oncology Nursing FAQs
- Looking for Oncology Travel Nurse Jobs? Trusted Nurse Staffing Can Help
What Is It Like to Be an Oncology Nurse?
The basic characteristics of any nurse should include compassion, resilience, and precision. However, oncology is a particularly challenging subset of medicine that requires a special breed of nurses.
If you’re an oncology nurse, you’re tough.
You can dig deep emotionally, physically, and mentally to persevere through exhausting and often emotional shifts.
While being an oncology nurse can be incredibly taxing, it can also be one of the most rewarding jobs for nurses.
If you’re searching for your dream job in nursing, our recruiters at Trusted Nurse Staffing would love to talk with you. They’ll help answer any questions you have about working as an oncology travel nurse.
Plus, you can use the Pronto job search to input your job requirements and ideal work areas and get a list of available positions.
What Do Oncology Nurses Do?
Oncology nurses care for cancer patients. They help to coordinate the many aspects of their care throughout their cancer diagnosis and treatment.
For cancer patients, oncology nurses are there during the most difficult and intimate times of this journey. You are the one at their bedside, helping to educate and encourage them. You are the one behind the scenes, supporting families and communicating with doctors and other care team members.
Here are some specific examples of things oncology nurses might do from day to day.
6 Responsibilities of an Oncology Nurse
#1: Patient Assessment
As an oncology nurse, you’re expected to be an expert in assessing a patient’s physical and emotional status — completing a detailed history and physical examination.
You’ll review their:
- Health history
- Health practices; and
- Knowledge of the disease and treatment plan
Their doctor will use this information in combination with tests and examinations to create their care plan and amend it as needed.
#2: Patient Education
Oncology nurses are experts when it comes to cancer and cancer treatments.
You’ll help the patient and his or her family understand the disease and the treatment process. Your clinical knowledge and technical expertise will help ensure the patient understands what is happening with their body in each stage of treatment.
Patient and family education starts at diagnosis and continues during and after treatment, and this continuing education helps to ensure success.
Patient education can consist of written or visual aids along with oral instructions. It may also include referrals to other professionals or community programs, such as cancer support groups.
#3: Direct Patient Care
Oncology nurses provide direct patient care at the bedside and chairside.
This may include:
- Keeping track of laboratory, pathology, and imaging studies
- Safely administering medications and cancer treatments; and
- Keeping the patient hydrated and comfortable
The majority of oncology nurses will provide direct patient care involving chemotherapy. It’s important to ensure that the correct dose and drug are administered by the correct route to the right patient, as any mistakes in this area can have dire consequences.
#4: Care Coordination
Oncology nurses play a vital role in a patient’s treatment plan, serving as the patient’s first line of communication. You’ll collaborate with doctors and other clinicians about the treatment plan on the patient’s behalf.
Advocating for the unique needs of your patients can help to reduce the impact of cancer on:
- Families; and
#5: Patient Advocacy
While doctors may order treatments or decide to change plans for their cancer patients, nurses are the ones who are on the front lines with them every time they enter a cancer center. Oncology nurses truly know their patients and can blend advocacy with science to help doctors make the right decisions.
#6: Patient Symptom Management and Support
Symptom management goes far beyond screening for pain or asking about fatigue — it’s a central practice in oncology nursing.
- Complex decision-making
- Evidence-based interventions; and
- The support of the entire team
Oncology nurses intervene with evidence-based resources to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients who are plagued with disease and treatment-associated symptoms.
Cancer patients may suffer from:
- Nausea and vomiting; or
- A number of other side effects
Patient management and support from loving and caring oncology nurses are paramount to the successful outcomes of cancer patients.
Is Oncology Nursing Difficult?
Working in oncology can be difficult and especially emotionally taxing at times, but it comes with quite a few rewards of its own. Let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of oncology nursing so you can decide for yourself whether you think it’s worth it.
5 Pros of Working in Oncology
Oncology nurses have a rewarding career that helps many patients and their families — making a tremendous impact on the quality of life for their patients.
In addition to the impact you make in the lives of those with cancer, as an oncology nurse, you’ll see many other benefits that few other careers offer.
#1: Above-Average Salaries
Pay for oncology nurses can change depending on the area and current demand.
Oncology nurse jobs pay an average annual salary of around $74,000, which is slightly higher than the median salary for other nurses. Some states such as New York and California may pay $150,000 or more per year.
A travel nurse working in oncology averages over $100,000 earned annually — plus you’ll get all the other bonuses and perks that come with travel nursing.
#2: The Ability to Form Long-Term Relationships With Patients
The relationships you build with your cancer patients will be special.
Oncology nurses walk through some of the most difficult times that a cancer patient may go through — from beginning chemotherapy and the joy of remission or helping them as they end their fight with dignity.
You’ll inspire your patients, and their hard work will inspire you. Building strong relationships with them and their family members is common and rewarding for many oncology nurses.
#3: Being Able to Combine Your Medical Knowledge and Emotional Intelligence
Oncology nursing takes emotional intelligence to deal with loss and patients’ physical and emotional pain. Patients are often scared, upset, and anxious. It’s important to understand how their emotions are playing a role in their health.
It also takes specialized medical knowledge so that you can do everything you can for your cancer patients.
You’ll need to have a deep understanding of the disease process, physical effects, and the treatments being offered to the patient.
#4: Many Oncology Nurses Are Able To Work Standard Hours
If you’re used to the frantic pace and long, often irregular hours of working in a hospital or other round-the-clock care environment, you may love the opportunity to work in an outpatient center with regular office hours.
#5: It Can Help Give You Perspective About What’s Important in Life
When you’re working in literal life-and-death situations every day and seeing the things your patients are going through, it can give you a greater appreciation for the life you have. Seeing your patients triumph over difficult situations is also inspiring.
2 Cons of Working in Oncology
As with all specialty areas of nursing, it is essential to also weigh the negatives in order to decide if oncology nursing is right for you.
It’s important to make sure you are really driven to do this work and that you have a true passion.
#1: High Levels of Occupational Stress
Since oncology nurses form close relationships with patients who are often terminal, this can lead to a lot of stress and sadness on the job.
Two ways to combat this are to focus on all the good you are doing for patients and to remember to take care of yourself, too!
An article in the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing shares that “oncology nurses have a longstanding history of witnessing the tragedy experienced by those they care for.” However, they may not have the same level of treatment services many first responders have such as “counseling, routine debriefing, and time off to counter the negative emotional effects.”
Travel oncology nurses are able to take time off between their assignments to rest and ready themselves for the next assignment, helping to increase professional longevity and fulfillment.
#2: The Danger of Exposure to Toxic Chemotherapy Drugs
Exposure to chemotherapy can create hazards for oncology nurses as they deliver lifesaving care to cancer patients. Exposure occurs when oncology nurses inhale vapors or touch contaminated surfaces.
Guidelines recommend wearing protective gear, including:
- Double gloves
- Eye protection; and
Despite the risks, many healthcare workers don’t use the recommended protective equipment when handling chemotherapy, which can lead to detrimental effects in the long run.
As long as you are very careful and follow safety protocols, you should be protected in your work environment.
Oncology Nursing FAQs
Where Do Oncology Nurses Work?
Oncology nurses can work in a variety of settings, including:
- Outpatient centers
- Private practices; and
- Long-term care facilities
Wondering what to expect on an oncology unit? The scope of oncology nursing spans from prevention and early detection to treatment, symptom management, and palliative care.
Experienced oncology travel nurses also have the incredible opportunity that few other careers can offer — getting paid to explore and travel across the country.
If adding in adventure, amazing pay, and lasting memories appeals to you, we’d love to help you get started. Use the Pronto job search to find the best oncology travel nurse positions today.
Is There a High Demand for Oncology Nurses?
(The good news is that — due to early detection and continued treatment advances — the number of cancer deaths continues to drop.)
Cancer care centers and hospitals are always on the lookout for oncology nurses who:
- Have clinical expertise
- Are compassionate
- Have excellent communication skills; and
- Can handle the emotional toll of working with the terminally ill
If you think these characteristics apply to you, there is a job for you in oncology nursing.
What Are the Biggest Challenges of Oncology Nursing?
Oncology nurses can have a lot of pressure to deal with. Knowing that attention to detail is of the utmost importance in cancer treatments can cause a great deal of stress.
The emotional implications of knowing that many of your patients may not survive their illnesses can also have quite a toll. Because of these factors, oncology nurses may be more prone to burnout than those in other specialties.
How Do You Become an Oncology Nurse?
To become an oncology nurse, a minimum of an associate’s degree is required, but a bachelor’s degree is recommended. Current trends in nursing show that more healthcare facilities are looking for higher degrees these days, and having a BSN can give you a competitive edge.
You must also:
- Become a licensed RN by passing the NCLEX
- Get at least 1,000 hours of contact experience
- Earn at least 10 of those hours in the field of oncology
It’s not always a requirement, but you may also choose to become certified through the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation. This should give you a great advantage when you’re searching for jobs.
There are so many different forms of cancer with a variety of treatments, so it’s important for new oncology nurses to have a wide base of experience before becoming certified in the field.
Travel nursing can help you find jobs in a variety of specialties, so if you’re considering becoming an oncology nurse full-time, you may want to explore that with some of your travel assignments.
Looking for Oncology Travel Nurse Jobs? Let Trusted Nurse Staffing Help
Are you ready to begin your career as an oncology travel nurse?
Getting started with Trusted Nurse Staffing is easy. Our new job search powered by Pronto will help you find jobs, compare pay, and get to work.
One of our recruiters will reach out to you to discuss everything you need to know about this exciting career. They will help to answer any questions you have and help you determine if this is the right path for you, whether you’re interested in oncology nursing or some other field.
We aim to offer a personalized experience and will help you through each step as you begin your new adventure.
The world needs more amazing nurses like you. If you’re ready to start your journey as an oncology travel nurse, reach out today!