Oncology Nurse

Prior to the 50’s, diagnosed cancer patients were usually first operated on before other treatments were administered. As a result, nurses working in oncology clinics did not specialize. Oncology nurses now specialize in cancer treatment, are and therapy since most cancer patients today receive chemotherapy and radiation therapies.

New cancer therapies began emerging in the 70’s after the National Cancer Act was enacted. This law was passed to improve the condition of people recovering from cancer and reduce cancer related deaths. Ever since then, cancer deaths have decreased and the science of oncology has changed significantly.

Oncology nursing has changed over the last few decades due to these factors:

  • Preventative health and early cancer screening
  • International cancer awareness campaigns
  • Improvements in technology and treatment
  • Public concern about cancer

As a result of these and other factors, oncology nurses with specialized skills are in demand, and oncology nursing has evolved significantly.

Roles of Oncology Nurses

Oncology nurses work as administrators, conduct research, train students at nursing schools, and administer patient care. Oncology nurses work at hospitals, cancer treatment clinics, physicians’ clinics, veterans’ hospitals, convalescent centers, and other medical clinics.

Oncology nurses coordinate recovery therapies for cancer patients, contact doctors to discuss individual patients, and manage patient care.

Advanced oncology nursing specialists oversee patient care, assess colleague performance, discuss care with patients’ families, and sometimes offer diagnoses.

Some oncology nurses specialize in treatment management and coordination. These specialists are typically responsible for supervising multiple cancer treatment teams. While supervising care, coordinators must be realistic with patients about prognoses.

Oncology nurses working at consulting firms offer counsel to business executives, physicians, teachers, nurses, healthcare administrators, and others seeking ideas to understand and improve cancer treatments. Oncology nurses working as teachers develop curriculum and teach patients and students about cancer.

Oncology nurses who conduct research develop research problems, conduct experiments, read medical journals, and apply research conclusions to patient care.

Nurses working as administrators manage medical departments and clinics. Their responsibilities typically include supervising employees, developing strategies to improve patient care, and making sure treatment adheres to the highest standards.

Oncology Nursing Specialties

Oncology nurses sometimes specialize in preventative, acute, and palliative care. Oncology nurses often specialize in:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Breast oncology
  • Hematology
  • Biotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Surgical oncology
  • GYN oncology
  • Bone marrow transplant
  • Cancer genetic counseling

Job Qualifications

Oncology nurses complete specialized training and are licensed as registered nurses. They are required to obtain specialized training and education to become familiar with advanced cancer care and treatments. These specialists must complete clinical training in addition to formal classroom study.

Oncology nurses must complete continuing education, undergo colleague reviews, review research findings, and participate in other professional improvement programs.

Advanced oncology nurses typically spend years treating patients and completing advanced training in cancer treatment and recovery. These specialists earn graduate degrees.

Oncology nurses often develop new skills and increase their salaries by certifying as any of the following specialists: advanced oncology certified nurse (AOCN), certified pediatric oncology nurse (CPON), or oncology certified nurse (OCN). Get in contact with the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation to learn more.

The Oncology Nursing Society administers a chemotherapy training course to ensure treatments administered at clinics nationwide are consistent. Nurses who complete this course learn how to effectively and safely deliver chemotherapy. Licenses remain good for 2 years. Get in contact with the Oncology Nursing Society for additional details.

Work Setting

Oncology nurses work at cancer treatment hospitals, outpatient clinics, general hospitals, and other medical clinics. Many oncology nurses are employed at National Cancer Institute hospitals. Some oncology specialists work at public health departments, home healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, nursing schools, palliative care clinics, physicians’ offices, and convalescent centers.

Salary Range

Oncology nurses usually begin their careers earning $35,000 annually, while those with experience and advanced skills earn between $60,000 - 125,000 a year.


Oncology nurses must complete all the licensing requirements necessary to become registered nurses, which includes earning an associates degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN). Those with advanced skills and knowledge hold graduate degrees.

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