We asked an oncology nurse what she loves most about her job and what nursing students should know about specializing in oncology.
Oncology nurses are involved in many aspects of cancer diagnoses and treatment, including prevention and early detection, and symptom management. In addition to providing care for patients, they also educate and provide support for patients’ families and loved ones.
Many nurses find a career in oncology to be especially rewarding. We asked Jessica Kapustin, an oncology nurse and a nursing instructor at Herzing University-Kenosha, what she loves most about her job and what nursing students should know about specializing in oncology.
Why did you decide to become an oncology nurse?
I love caring for people, so nursing was a natural calling for me. I was drawn to oncology specifically because I love having the opportunity to form long-term relationships with my patients.
Tell us a time that you struggled working as an oncology nurse and how you overcame that struggle.
I had a patient who was very young and she was receiving her treatment far from home. She became so ill that she was no longer able to receive active treatment, but she was too sick to travel home with her family. This was the first patient that I became very close with and it was hard for me to separate my personal feelings from the situation. I worked hard with an interdisciplinary team to help find the funds and coordinate the accommodations for her to fly home in a private air ambulance.
What do you love about working in the oncology department?
Just about every interaction I have with my patients is meaningful to me. Of course, I love when scans come back clear and the patient is in remission. This does not mean the end of the relationship, but rather a transition into survivorship care.
How do you prepare yourself to care for patients through all levels of survivorship?
When I first became a nurse, there were not a lot of formal mentoring programs. I was taken under the wings of experienced nurses who guided my nursing practice. I also consider the relationships that I have built with my patients as mentoring experiences. They have shaped how I approach patient care.
I am also a member of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) and I work hard to increase my knowledge through monthly educational experiences. The ONS offers many continuing education resources on its website, from courses and activities to practice exams for the Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN) certification.
Where can oncology nurses work?
There are many different healthcare settings in which an oncology nurse can practice, such as physician offices, outpatient chemotherapy centers, outpatient radiation departments, interventional radiology suites, inpatient units and intensive care units. Your day-to-day really depends on where you work.
I have worked with oncology patients throughout my 30-year career, on the medical/surgical units of hospitals and in the emergency department, etc. I have worked exclusively with oncology patients for the last decade.
Do you have any advice for nurses who plan specialize in oncology?
My advice is…do it! One thing to keep in mind is that no matter where you are working, communication and active listening are essential skills for oncology nurses. To be an oncology nurse, you really need to understand the importance of a holistic approach to patient care.
Considering a career as an oncology nurse?
You can join Jessica in a rewarding, fulfilling career as an oncology nurse.
Step 1 to become an oncology nurse is getting educated and earning your BSN. You can get certified with an associate’s degree, but you’ll find more opportunity with a bachelor’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a registered nurse (RN) is $70,000 per year ($33.65 per hour) and registered nurse positions are expected to grow 15% from 2016-2026. The average salary of a nurse with a BSN has a better chance of coming out above average compared to a nurse with an associate’s degree only. Those figures will vary based on your state of employment and the working environment (hospital, clinic, private practice, etc).
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2020. 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.