Do you enjoy solving complex problems? Do you live for translating intricate information into simplified patient education? Do you have a knack for connecting with people? Do you have a passion for walking people through challenging situations? Are you a wizard with IV sticks and injections? Do you love learning new things? Oncology nursing may be your jam!

What is Oncology Nursing?

Nurses who work in Oncology care for patients with cancer. Cancer is not a single disease; it is abnormal cell growth and can occur in any type of cell making up the human body. There are at least 200 different types of cancer, each with their own complexities.

Many people – even nurses – are surprised that only a small percentage of the genetic changes seen in cancer are inherited. The majority of cancers are caused by environmental factors – like tobacco use, UV radiation exposure, and aging. Since the completion of the Human Genome Project, the understanding of genetics and their role oncology has exploded.

This explosion has occurred in parallel to the rising demand for oncology nurses with specialized knowledge. Just as cancer is not a single disease, oncology nursing is not a single specialty. Oncology nursing includes:

· Prevention and Screening Coordinator
· Nurse Navigation
· Surgery
· Chemotherapy Administration
· Radiation Therapy
· Bone Marrow Transplant
· Critical Care
· Hematology
· Palliative Care
· Pediatric Oncology
· Research and Clinical Trials

Oncology nursing can be further broken down by age group or type of cancer, each with specific skill requirements. Some examples are those who specialize in children, breast cancer or cancers of the blood.

Working as an Oncology nurse is a deeply rewarding. Many patients are seen on a regular basis and nurses get to know them really well throughout their cancer journey. Oncology nurses witness, care for and support patients along a continuum, from reactions to diagnosis, through treatment, symptom management, and in some cases coping with adjusting to alterations in physical appearance. While some patients do not survive, there are absolutely success stories in oncology and nurses play a major role in them.

Oncology nursing can be emotionally taxing. Self-care strategies are necessary to protect a nurse’s mental/emotional health in this environment.

Where do Oncology Nurses Work?

Oncology nurses work in many settings including hospitals, outpatient settings and home health. In hospitals, oncology nurses work in different places – oncology or medical surgical units, operating rooms, and intensive care units. Outpatient clinics and cancer centers, sometimes attached to hospitals, deliver outpatient services like infusion services or radiation oncology.

Community settings are also outpatient but extend beyond clinical settings. These include cancer screening and prevention programs – such as campaigns to raise cancer awareness or to prevent tobacco use and are often driven by oncology nurses.

Managing cancer care is increasingly common in the home setting. Treatments are sometimes administered at home. Oncology nurses may also work in telehealth, offering support services to patients at home.

Education and Experience Requirements

Licensed Registered Nurses (RNs), and sometimes Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), are eligible to work as oncology nurses. Nurses can become certified only after having significant experience working in oncology. An Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN), for example, needs 2,000 hours of experience before certification. OCN is one of many oncology nursing certifications. These certifications validate specific knowledge, demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning, and may boost salary.

A new graduate nurse can thrive in oncology and residency programs are offered in some locations. A new graduate can work in many oncology settings – even in outpatient clinics and cancer centers. Continuing education is critically important because new therapies or indications for therapies are introduced frequently in oncology. Fortunately, oncology nursing organizations, like the Oncology Nursing Society, offer robust resources on various platforms to keep oncology nurses up to date.

Characteristics Employers Look For

Cancer is a rocky road. Nurses skilled in empathetic communication, attention to detail, and those who are committed to lifelong learning have the skills needed to be a great oncology nurse. Treatment success often hinges on nurses empowering patients to play an active role. Keen assessment skills, top-notch IV and injection skills, and problem-solving are among key characteristics that employers are seeking in oncology nurses.


Chelsea Bostelman, RN, BSN, OCN, RYT

 Chelsea Bostelman, RN, BSN, OCN, RYT is a bilingual nurse, yoga teacher, writer,   and military spouse. She is working on a master’s degree in nursing from East   Carolina University and takes online courses from her current home in beautiful   southern Germany.