Oncology nurses fulfill a variety of important roles in the area of patient care for cancer patients and their families. From working directly with patients undergoing treatment to being an educational resource for family members, nurses who work with cancer patients and their primary caregivers must possess a wide range of clinical and soft skills in order to be most effective. While many oncology nurses work in hospitals, others work in out-patient facilities or may choose positions with the opportunity to visit patients at their homes.
One of the most important roles of an oncology nurse is that of a treatment plan coordinator and caregiver who can help families manage complicated and technical treatments while keeping track of related records and providing impeccable documentation. Not only are oncology nurses responsible for carrying out treatments, they are also reliable sources of comfort and support for cancer patients and their families. As a change of pace to direct patient care, an oncology nurse may also serve as a community health educator. Some serve as consultants to other colleagues and help implement best practice treatment protocol in a variety of settings.
There are a variety of training programs, internships and volunteer opportunities for professionals interested in a career as an oncology nurse. Most oncology nurses hold a master’s degree in the field. Other nurses with extensive experience choose to obtain a nurse practitioners degree so that they can have a more powerful role in patient care. Nurse practitioners can prescribe medicine, read and interpret diagnostic tests and coordinate interdisciplinary team care for patients.
While a variety of specific advanced credentials exist for oncology nurses, actual credentialing requirements will vary geographically, so it is important to pursue the most up to date information from the local chapter of a related professional organization or from local credentialing officials.
Many oncology nurses specialize in a particular type of cancer as their career progresses. Some may even prefer a particular population such as children or the elderly. There are more specialized work settings now than existed a generation ago and as a result oncology nurses have a wider range of professional settings from which to choose.
While some nurses prefer the diversity of cases found in a general hospital setting, other nurses prefer to work in designated cancer treatment centers. At the same time, other oncology nurses enjoy working one-on-one with patients in home settings who are trying to maintain their independence while managing the challenges that come with living with cancer.
In addition to an intrinsic desire to stay current in the field, oncology nurses need to be able to keep accurate records, attend to a great number of details while working under pressure and be able to effectively communicate technical information to patients and their families. A compassionate and calming personality is important to best help cancer patients manage the physical and emotional details of the ailment. In addition to these skills, oncology nurses are also important patient advocates and are often perceived as allies in the patient’s battle with the disease.
While salaries will vary geographically, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that top nurses can earn over $65,000 per year. Depending upon area of expertise and workplace setting, the salary may be more or less than this median figure. Years of experience, regional location, education level and supervisory roles will also affect income potential.
Oncology nurses fulfill many roles for patients and their families. While their area of expertise is in high demand, it is essential that professionals seeking this credential also seek strong work experiences to augment the practical skills and knowledge. The job of an oncology nurse is demanding but rewarding work and will vary from day to day. Dealing with a potentially deadly disease like cancer is never easy. Having a highly skilled and knowledgeable oncology nurse as a partner in the process can make a world of difference to patients and their families as they try and navigate a complex healthcare system to secure the best care possible for loved ones.