Nursing oncology has been Ana Armstrong’s specialty for more than 20 years. As an MSN nurse educator and associate professor of nursing at Herzing-Orlando, Armstrong helps students understand why a career in oncology is rewarding.
“People always assume that my specialty is depressing,” she says. “But they couldn’t be more wrong.”
Oncology nurses specialize in treating patients with cancer. In addition to administering medications and other cancer treatments, oncology nurses also serve as patient advocates, helping patients understand their disease and manage their symptoms. They are often a patient’s first line of communication to doctors and the rest of the healthcare team.
For Armstrong and her colleagues, working in oncology is life-affirming.
“My patients embrace every single second they are gifted with. The irritations of everyday life do not bother them, and the truly important things in life take on increasing significance,” Armstrong says. “They have been able to share these life lessons with me and for that, I am grateful and humbled to be part of their care.”
Another aspect of oncology care that Armstrong enjoys is the opportunity to truly get to know her patients. Since many cancer patients undergo treatment for an extended period of time, oncology nurses and patients often establish strong friendships.
“When you see someone for that length of time, you start to learn about them and you can really connect,” she said. “I’ve celebrated the birth of my patients’ grandchildren, the achievements of their children, and so many other life milestones. Every day is an opportunity to be thankful.”
Of course, Armstrong admits, there are also challenging aspects of working with cancer patients. When medical intervention is no longer beneficial to the patient, treatment options must be reevaluated, and that can lead to some extremely difficult conversations.
Even when faced with the worst, Armstrong is thankful for the opportunity to provide care and support her patients and their families.
“We try not to be sad, but to always look at it as a celebration of a life. I have never said goodbye to any of my patients,” she says. “I always say ‘I will see you later.’”
Today, Armstrong is a lead and co-instructor for both ASN and BSN programs at Herzing-Orlando, with a strong focus on medical-surgical nursing and leadership. She is also an active member of curriculum and engagement committees, and a preceptor for new nursing program faculty.
Armstrong still considers the oncology department her home, and couldn’t imagine a more fulfilling nursing career.
“The clients and staff I have worked with have become my family,” she says. “It is one of the greatest honors of my life to stand side-by-side with these amazing people.”
What does it take to become an oncology nurse?
Oncology is a specialized field, requiring extensive knowledge and clinical expertise in cancer care and treatment. To become oncology certified, nurses must have an RN license and may pursue advanced certifications after completing a master’s degree in nursing and additional clinical training.
Oncology nurses may work in a variety of patient care settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics and long-term care facilities. They are involved in multiple aspects of cancer diagnoses and treatment, including prevention and early detection, symptom management and more.