Oncology Nurse Job Description and Education Requirements

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Being diagnosed with cancer is certainly a terrifying and life-changing event. The impact of cancer on one's life is relative to the extent of disruption and change experienced. Some patients under treatment continue to work or care for their families, facing life, using available resources. It is the nurse’s ability to provide education to the patient and family members across the treatment continuum by guiding the patient in adjusting to the truth of the illness in order to reduce anxiety and improve coping skills. It is the nurse’s role to perform thorough assessment and apply intervention that will promote positive impact on patient outcomes. If you are interested in nursing care for cancer patients and families then a career in oncology is right for you.

Oncology nurses play a significant part in the health care team, as he or she works in all aspects of cancer care.  Oncology nurses integrate their technical skills, scientific knowledge, and caring attitude to aid those living with cancer, including their families – starting from diagnosis, treatment, then survivor-ship to end-of-life care. 

Oncology nurses assume a variety of roles when providing care for patients with cancer. From being an educator for family members to administration of patient treatment, nurses working for cancer patients should possess a broad range of clinical skills to be effective in the workplace. While most oncology nurses find employment in hospitals, others are employed in outpatient facilities.

An oncology nurse should be a registered nurse, duly licensed by his or her state. While it will be best to earn a 4-year bachelor’s degree in nursing, aspiring nurses may choose to start their career with a 3-year diploma course or 2-year associate degree. In order to be an oncology nurse, you will have to learn a set of cancer care skills, which are obtained through continuing education, clinical practice, or coursework. Once you gain sufficient knowledge and experience, you may take an examination and become a certified oncology nurse.

To be an oncology nurse practitioner, one should complete a master’s degree in nursing, which usually takes 2 additional years to complete. After completing the graduate program, you can then apply recognition on your respective state’s board of nursing and be an advanced practice nurse (APN). To be an oncology nurse practitioner, one will need not less than 500 hours of clinical practice with supervision in an oncology department or institution, which can be accrued during or after the master’s program is completed. This is a requirement to be qualified for the certification examination to become an advanced oncology certified nurse practitioner (AOCNP). 

Oncology nurse’s main duty is to supervise and provide nursing care to cancer patients. They monitor patient’s condition, develop care plans, develop symptom management protocols, and administer medication. They often witness patient’s suffering; however, such tremendous stress is offset by the relationship they form with patients and the families.

The responsibilities of oncology nurses goes beyond direct patient care, with roles as research, manager, consultant, and patient educator. They work hand-in-hand with physicians and other healthcare team members to ensure the greatest quality of care for the patient. The responsibilities and duties of oncology nurses include:

  • Create individualized care plans on patient under their supervision and care.
  • Recognize and treat cancer-related issues.
  • Collaborate with a team of healthcare professionals to share expertise and knowledge.
  • Do cancer research to enhance treatment protocols assigned to cancer patients.
  • Give supportive resources on the patient and the families to promote positive outlook.
  • Teach patients and the families regarding treatment expectations.
  • Watch and record the patient’s progress on a constant basis.
  • Chart the patient’s response to treatment and medication.

Oncology nurses offer a wide range of service, from cancer prevention to direct care through palliative, supportive, and rehabilitative services. Many oncology nurses specialize in the care of children with cancer and are referred to as pediatric oncology nurses.

Oncology nurses often work in sterile hospital environments and some work in community clinics. Oncology nurses should adhere to strict confidentiality terms and policies because of the delicate health condition of patients with cancer. Full-time oncology nurses usually work 40 hours a week but might need to be available 24/7 for emergency situations.


As far as compensation, the average salary of pediatric oncology nurse is $79,000, which is way more than the average salary of an average registered nurse. On the other hand, the average salary of an advanced certified oncology nurse is $93,000. The career outlook for nursing jobs is promising. Based on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a job growth rate is 22% is predicted for nurses from 2008 to 2018. Specialists in advanced nursing such as oncology nurses will be desired, specifically in inner cities and rural areas where healthcare and medical attention is warranted. 

  • Oncology Nursing Society (www.ons.org)
  • Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (www.oncc.org)
  • Association of Pediatric Oncology Nurses (www.apon.org)

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