What Is an Oncology Nurse?

NursingDecember 11, 2023

Oncology nurses are invaluable members of healthcare teams whose job is to support, treat, and educate patients diagnosed with or at risk of having cancer. They work alongside other medical staff, like oncologists and radiologists, to provide medical assessments and develop specialized plans of care. 

Individuals who are interested in becoming oncology nurses should have a firm understanding of what oncology nursing is and its requirements. Completing a nursing education to become an RN, gaining real-world work experience, and developing an advanced skill set are all valuable steps to becoming an oncology nurse. 

Oncology Nurse Job Description 

Oncology nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who care for patients with cancer and their families, working with them through their diagnosis, treatment, survivorship, and end-of-life care. Oncology nurses are tasked with monitoring and treating patients of all ages as well as interacting with their patients’ families and other healthcare providers. 

These specialized nurses have extensive knowledge about cancer and play integral roles in the early prevention, detection, and treatment stages of cancer. They must be flexible and able to stay abreast of the latest treatment options and advancements. More than just providers of medical care, oncology nurses offer their patients hope, compassion, and support.

Work Environment for Oncology Nurses

Oncology nurses, and RNs in general, can work in any of various healthcare settings. Hospitals employ the most RNs at 59%, according to 2022 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Other work environments include: ambulatory healthcare services (18%), nursing and residential care facilities (6%), government (5%), and educational services (3%). Oncology nurses may also work in private practices.

Nurses typically work in shifts or may be on call for work. Some work as travel nurses, so their hours and work schedules may be unpredictable. 

Oncology Nurse Job Responsibilities

Oncology nurses perform many of the same duties as other RNs, such as checking patients’ vital signs, updating patients’ files, operating medical equipment, and coordinating patients’ care. 

Specific oncology nurse responsibilities typically include screening patients, offering symptom management care, explaining complex terminology, and administering medication, such as for chemotherapy treatments. They may also help monitor their patients’ emotional state. Nurses may choose to specialize even further by working with patients afflicted with breast cancer or pediatric cancer. 

Education Requirements and Certification Options

Prospective oncology nurses may begin their career by earning an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing. These programs offer classroom and supervised clinical learning experiences to prepare students for entry-level nursing jobs. Following graduation, prospective nurses need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), which satisfies the legal requirements to work as a nurse, and then apply to become licensed as a registered nurse in their state. 

While optional, gaining certification demonstrates an oncology nurse’s expertise and their ability to work with cancer patients. The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation offers multiple credentials:

  • Oncology certified nurse
  • Certified breast cancer nurse
  • Certified pediatric hematology oncology nurse
  • Blood and marrow transplant certified nurse

Eligibility requirements for all certifications are at least two years of RN work, an active nursing license, a minimum of 2,000 hours of nursing practice in their desired specialty area, and the completion of at least 10 contact hours of nursing continuing education. Nurses will also need to pass a multiple-choice test covering major subject areas.

Fundamental Skills

Oncology nursing is a patient-facing, demanding field that requires a combination of qualities:

  • Physical stamina: Nurses may need to stand, walk, and bend fairly often during their work shift. They must be physically able to perform their patient and administrative duties. 
  • Compassion: Going above and beyond for patients shows them that they are cared for, and it can also help them feel more comfortable during procedures. 
  • Emotional stability: Given how taxing cancer treatments can be for patients, oncology nurses often provide emotional support to connect with and uplift their patients. They must also be able to stay calm during sensitive and stressful moments, such as when providing end-of-life care. 
  • Attention to detail: Whether it’s dispensing the correct medication or following physicians’ instructions, the responsibilities of oncology nurses require them to be detail oriented to ensure precision. 
  • Communication: Nurses work in collaborative environments, so they need excellent written and verbal skills to be effective. This skill is also important when sharing information, particularly complex information, with patients and their families. 
  • Clinical expertise: Oncology nurses need to have a deep understanding of cancer, its treatments, and the potential side effects of those treatments. 

Job Outlook for Oncology Nurses

Oncology nurses are registered nurses, and the BLS projects employment of RNs will grow 6% from 2022 to 2032. The BLS specifically notes that employment growth is expected for RNs working in outpatient centers that offer surgery, rehabilitation, and chemotherapy. 

Take the First Step to Becoming an Oncology Nurse With a Degree From Fortis 

If you’re considering a career in oncology nursing, Fortis may have a nursing degree program option that fits your needs. 

Our two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program is available at select campuses in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia. This program offers classroom and practical experience and prepares students for the licensing examination. 

Learn more about how a Fortis nursing program can help you reach your professional goals.  

Recommended Readings
How to Become a Travel Nurse
Specialty Spotlight: Pediatric Oncology Nursing
5 Ways Nurses Are Making a Difference in Patients’ Lives

City of Hope, “The Heart of Health Care: Oncology Nursing”
Johnson & Johnson, Oncology Nurse at a Glance
National Cancer Institute, Cancer Statistics
Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation, Get Certified
Oncology Nursing Society, Career Guidance: Advance
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses