As you begin your nursing career, you may be interested in learning to specialize a nursing degree in oncology. The need for oncology nurses is important and ongoing, and their role has been changing in response to differing approaches to cancer prevention and treatment for the past few decades. Many oncology nurses have roles in direct patient care, helping to treat patients at a challenging and vulnerable time. Other oncology nurses work in teaching, administrative or research roles. The training you pursue may depend in part on your ultimate career goals within this specialized field.
If you hope to be an oncology nurse, you will need to start with a basic nursing degree in order to become a registered nurse. Although the bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) is becoming the standard degree for RNs, many nurses begin with either a diploma or associate’s degree, either of which can qualify you to take the national exam you need to pass in order to become an RN. Once you have become an RN, if you have an interest in oncology you can seek out opportunities to work in that area of care. There are many places and populations in need of caring and skilled oncology nurses, and within the specialization of oncology itself, there are a variety of sub-specialties such as pediatric oncology, surgical oncology or chemotherapy.
Although certification is not required to be an oncology nurse, it is often preferred by those looking to hire oncology nurses, as it shows a dedication to the work and to your ongoing education in the field. The Oncology Nursing Certificate Corporation (ONCC) provides exams in various areas of oncology nursing certification. You can contact them to find out the eligibility requirements for the particular area you’re interested in testing in. Often you need some degree of experience in that area prior to sitting for the test. For instance, in order to take the exam to become a Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON), you need to have at completed at least a year of basic nursing practice and a minimum of 1,000 hours of relevant clinical experience in pediatric hematology oncology nursing. Once you pass your exam, you are generally certified for a few year period before you need to renew your certification.
Some nurses who specialize a degree in oncology are especially advanced in the field. In general, these nurses have gotten advanced certification that required them to get a master’s degree or higher. This kind of education qualifies you to be an advance practice nurse (APRN). A couple of examples of the certification you can pursue with an advanced practice degree are Advanced Oncology Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP) and Advanced Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist (AOCNP). The requirements for such certifications usually include a good number of hours of relevant clinical practice in a supervised setting as well as your RN license and your graduate education.
Related Resource: Nurse Midwife
Although training to work as an oncology nurse can be challenging, the work is rewarding. Many nurses who have worked toward certification report feeling more confident in their roles. If you decide to want to specialize a nursing degree in oncology, talking with other nurses who have already pursued that path might be a good place to start.