Nurses are in high demand across the United States, particularly those who specialize in oncology. According to the National Cancer Institute, one-quarter of new cancer cases are diagnosed in individuals between the ages of 65 and 74. While cancer affects individuals of all ages, oncology nurses could become an especially vital part of the healthcare workforce as the baby boomer generation ages and the pool of elderly cancer patients increases.
Oncology nurses are involved in many aspects of cancer diagnoses and treatment, including prevention and early detection, and symptom management. Not only do they serve as a caregiver for their patients, they also educate and provide support for patients’ families and loved ones. Oncology nurses most often work in hospitals, but they can also be employed by home care organizations, specialty medical centers and ambulatory centers.
Despite the difficult nature of the work, many nurses find a career in oncology to be especially rewarding. If you’re interested in becoming an oncology nurse, you’ll first need to meet the educational and experience requirements to position yourself for opportunities in the field.
Here are five steps you can take to become an oncology nurse:
1: Earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing, BSN
The first step to becoming an oncology nurse is to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing. You can become an oncology certified nurse with an associate’s degree as well, but earning your BSN will open the door to more advancement opportunities in the oncology field later on.
If you’re already an LPN, you might consider an LPN to BSN bridge program. Some schools, like Herzing University, also offer an accelerated BSN program for students who have a bachelor’s degree in another field.
2: Become an RN
If you’re not a practicing registered nurse, you will have to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam once you earn your BSN. The NCLEX-RN requires you to demonstrate your expertise in the four elements of nursing – providing a safe care environment, coping with the pressures of the position, showing you are committed to preventative medicine and early intervention, and the ability to provide quality care.
Once you pass the exam, you can successfully apply for jobs as a registered nurse and explore positions in the oncology field. Becoming an RN can take anywhere from 2-5 years depending on your prior education and the degree path you choose.
If you’re already a nurse and want to branch out into the field of oncology, you can gain hands-on experience by volunteering as a nursing assistant in the oncology unit of a hospital or at a large cancer center. If you’re interested in doing this, reach out to healthcare employers in your area and inquire about their hiring requirements. You can supplement what you learn on the job through online courses and resources, such as those offered by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC).
4: Get certified
If you want to become an oncology certified nurse, you will have to take the Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN®) nurse exam.
In order to sit for the exam, you must have a minimum of one year of experience as an RN and at least 1,000 hours of adult oncology nursing practice prior to your application. The certification exam also requires you complete 10 contact hours of nursing education in oncology or take an elective in oncology nursing before you apply.
5: Continue your education
As you continue on your journey to becoming an oncology nurse, you must keep your nursing license and oncology certification current through continued education. If you are an oncology certified nurse, you will have to renew your certification every four years.
If you are interested in career advancement, you might consider earning a Master of Science in Nursing. This opens up new pathways to a career as a nurse practitioner or a nurse educator as well as various leadership and administrative positions in nursing and healthcare.
What a career as an oncology nurse is like
Herzing University nursing instructor Jessica Kapustin reports a highly fulfilling experience developing long term, meaningful relationships with patients—and stresses the importance of bringing a holistic approach to patient care. You can read her full account of what it’s like to be an oncology nurse.
How much you can make as an oncology nurse
The average salary of a RN is $82,750 per year ($39.78 per hour) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.* The average salary of an RN nurse with a BSN will lean above average in comparison to nurses with only an associate’s degree. Earning a FNP master’s degree can position you to become an oncology nurse practitioner and step up to the next level.
Herzing University empowers you to become a highly educated and qualified oncology nurse.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2021. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.
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