America's Nurses: An Oncology Nurse Shares Her Experience

NursingJanuary 15, 2014

In this article, you will meet Jenesse M., an oncology nurse, and learn about her journey into oncology nursing, a specialty of medicine that treats patients with cancer.

Jenesse wasn't sure exactly what career she wanted to pursue, even though she had been accepted to the local university. "I knew I was 'techie,' she said. "But I didn't want to sit behind a computer all day and do a normal nine-to-five job. I wanted to interact with people."

Jenesse had a revelation when she began volunteering for a nearby hospital on the oncology unit. "I just brought the patients water and did simple things for the nurses. But, I got to sit with the patients and talk to them, and I knew it would be a good fit for me. I also knew that it would be a solid career, flexible, with a lot of opportunities and a lot of different places I could go with it." Jenesse declared nursing as her major, and graduated with a BSN in 2008.

Cancer is a cruel disease that affects the young and the old, and it is emotionally devastating to all affected by it. An oncology nurse will take these patients by the hand and support them from diagnosis to treatment, through recovery and, if necessary, to a comfortable and peaceful death. It is a unique specialty that requires a lot from its nurses.

Oncology nursing is very different from any other kind of nursing. "There is a lot of emphasis on infection control. No children under 12 are allowed on the floor, our water is super filtered, and the unit is kept very clean." Most importantly, there is a lot of time spent attending to emotional needs. "Our nurse-patient ratio is lower, so we can spend more time working with patients and their families, dealing with the complex psychosocial issues that come with having cancer."

The majority of oncology treatment, like chemotherapy and radiation, are done in clinics, rather than requiring a hospital stay, and Jenesse predicts that the future will continue this trend. Oncology nurses can work in these clinics, monitoring these patients or in the hospital caring for patients whose treatment needs to be continuous, or those who are medically fragile and extremely ill.

Oncology patients who are admitted to the hospital tend to stay longer than other hospital patients, so nurses and patients have a much closer relationship. The patients also come back for several admissions, so all the nurses on the unit come to know them. "It's a continuation of a relationship of trust instead of consistently building new ones," Jenesse said. It's a unique place, where patients appreciate the nurses for all that they do, and the nurses are fiercely loyal to their patients. "Oncology nurses are very protective of their patients from advocacy, to pain control, to getting them the food that they want to eat." 

This kind of active caring can become emotionally draining for a nurse, but there is a high level of support between oncology nurses to help cope with the emotions that come with the job. Oncology nurses cry together when patients lose their battle with cancer, and celebrate together when they make steps toward recovery.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons