What does an Oncology Nurse do?
Patients who are at risk of getting cancer or who already have cancer are the special duties handled by oncology nurses. The field of oncology is one of the rewarding and challenging nursing fields where no shift is ever the same.
The tasks and responsibilities provided by oncology nurses include:
Chemotherapy administration is one of the job responsibilities of an oncology nurse. While rendering chemotherapy, patients have to be monitored and helped to manage the side effects brought by the medication. Based on this, the nurse is also responsible for creating treatment plans for the patient.
Family members of the patient have to be informed of the various phases, needs, and treatment. The effectiveness of the treatment plan from the various healthcare teams has to be coordinated with the needs of the patient. All of these responsibilities are handled by an oncology nurse.
One of the roles played by oncology nurses is to be a nurse educator. This entails teaching and advising the patient and their families about the treatment plans and management of symptoms.
Counseling patients and their family members about the disease including expected side effects are handled with grace and compassion by oncology registered nurses. The compassionate support system shown by oncology nurses towards their patients often forms a strong bond between them in the hospital setting and beyond.
Oncology Nurse Salary
As of July 2019, the annual average pay for Oncology Nurses working in the United States is $90,246. Some states can pay out as much as $139,000 a year to Oncology nurses. However, there are also locations wherein the current salary can be as low as $56,500.
Based on this, it can be said that across the United States, the majority current range pay of Oncology Nurses ranges from $74,500 to $97,000. However, recruitment agencies state that regardless of location and experience, the average annual base pay for many different types of nurses is around $62,500.
Yet, various hospitals offer the average annual base pay for RN Oncology from $66,510 to $83,183. Additional annual incentives to the base pay of $74,424 may vary but would net yearly income from $66,647 to $83,242 for RN-Oncology nurses in the United States.
Simply put, the average annual base pay plus incentives for Oncology nurses depend on experience, further education, and location.
A Day in the Life of an Oncology Nurse
The multiple aspects of cancer treatment and diagnosis involve oncology nurses. Additionally, symptom management, early detection, and prevention are part of an oncology nurse’s job description. Notwithstanding, providing support, care, and educating patients and their loved ones are expected from an oncology nurse.
Many nurses choose to specialize in cancer care because they find it to be especially rewarding. What happens in a day in the life of an oncology nurse?
- For oncology nurses, shift hours are from 0800-1600.
- 0800 starts with reading and responding to emails. Emails usually come from former patients requesting blood tests, a follow-up appointment with a doctor or check their blood results before starting oral chemotherapy treatment.
- 9 AM is chemotherapy time. Using the Systemic Anti-Cancer Therapy checklist, a new treatment is planned for a patient. This will be handed over to the Chemotherapy Nurse Specialist while raising ongoing patient’s chemotherapy concerns and issues.
- 10 AM is checking the list of out-patient appointments of Monday-Friday for every Oncologist. Duty this time is with the clinic where the role is to support patients newly diagnosed with the disease. Additionally, results of re-staging blood test/MRI/Pet-Ct scan of any patient have to be conveyed to the consultant.
- 1100 to 1230 is Ward rounds together with the MDT or Multidisciplinary Team. All inpatients are assessed and changes in treatments of patients are updated. This includes the date of treatment, chemotherapy regime, and dose reduction. All changes are endorsed to the Charge Nurse of Chemotherapy and CNS.
- 1430 is discussion time about current management plan of patients. These are documented in patients’ notes.
- 1530 is writing up all patient documents before going off shift.
The oncology nurse is seen as the leader of the Oncology department whenever there is a shortage of staff. He or she is accountable to report any urgent changes in the condition of the patient to the medical team. They also have to make sure that the allocated nurses are taking good care of the patients.
How to Become an Oncology Nurse
The route towards becoming an Oncology Nurse starts with an ADN or Associate or BSN or Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. The better option is with the BSN because of its detailed qualification. When you are ready to start working, a BSN degree will make you stand out from the other applicants.
A nursing license is a next step after graduating from your nursing degree. Sitting and passing the NCLEX examination is the way to obtain a nursing license. Once you’ve become an RN, you may opt to specialize in oncology.
You may opt to obtain a Master’s Degree after you’ve graduated and gained practical experience for a couple of years.
Being certified as an OCN or Oncology Certified Nurse is a personal accomplishment that can enhance your professional credibility.
Initial Certification Criteria
1. An unencumbered, current, and active license as an RN at the time of application and examination in the United States, its territories or Canada.
2. RN experience of at least 24 months or 2 years within the 48 months or four years before application.
3. 2,000 hours minimum in the nursing practice of adult oncology within 48 months or four years before application. The Nursing practice could be in consultation, clinical practice, research, education or nursing administration. The nursing practice qualification means that the position filled is for Registered Nurses only.
4. Completed continuing nursing education for a minimum of 10 contact hours within 36 months or three years before application. Continuing nursing education should be concentrated in oncology nursing or academic elective in oncology. An approved or an accredited provider of continuing nursing education should formally provide or approve the contact hours. The CME or continuing medical education in oncology should show maximum contact hours of five out of the required 10.
Final Thoughts on Oncology Nursing
Taking care of patients whose lives are often terminal or at real risk takes a special person. This means that oncology nurses are special people that are emotionally stable to be there for both the patient and their loved ones. As an oncology nurse, you should be able to cope when treatments often fail to result in patients losing their battle against the disease.
If you feel that you are the right person for this position, the first step is to search for nursing colleges or universities in your local area offering nursing courses.