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Oncology Nurse: Salary and How to Become One

Written by: North Carolina Central University   •  Oct 2, 2023
An oncology nurse smiles and helps a patient in a medical facility.

Oncology Nurse: Salary and How to Become One

The sprawling realm of health care has a special group of professionals whose dedication and compassion shine most brightly amid extraordinary circumstances. These professionals are oncology nurses — the unsung heroes in the battle against cancer.

Oncology nurses play a critical role in providing unwavering support and expertise to patients and their families as the patients navigate their cancer diagnosis and treatment. Given the deeply consequential nature of the work, oncology nurse salaries and career prospects tend to be promising. However, it starts with laying the right foundation with empathy-focused education that prepares them for the road ahead.

What Do Oncology Nurses Do?

Oncology nurses are health care professionals who specialize in the care of cancer patients. The scope of their care is broad and includes administering treatments, monitoring patient conditions, managing symptoms, educating patients and their families about cancer and its treatments, and offering emotional and psychological support throughout the cancer journey.

Where Do Oncology Nurses Work?

Oncology nurses can work in various practice settings depending on their specialization, their career goals, and the needs of the patient population they wish to serve. Common settings where oncology nurses work include the following:

  • Hospitals
  • Cancer treatment centers
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Hospice care facilities
  • Home health care
  • Research institutions
  • Telemedicine

Key Responsibilities of Oncology Nurses

Oncology nurses have a wide range of important duties, all aimed at providing comprehensive care and support to cancer patients. Their primary responsibilities include the following:

  • Assessment. Conducting thorough assessments of cancer patients, including physical exams, and gathering medical histories to understand their conditions and needs.
  • Treatment administration. Administering chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, and other cancer treatments, while closely monitoring patients for potential side effects or complications.
  • Symptom management. Managing and alleviating cancer-related symptoms, such as pain, nausea, fatigue, and discomfort by administering medications and other interventions.
  • Education. Providing patients and their families with information about the patients’ cancer diagnosis, treatment options, and strategies for managing side effects or symptoms.
  • Emotional support. Offering emotional support and counseling to help patients cope with the psychological and emotional challenges of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.
  • Patient advocacy. Advocating for patient needs and preferences, ensuring that they receive appropriate care and services.
  • Patient monitoring. Monitoring patients’ vital signs, laboratory results, and overall health to track progress and make necessary adjustments to treatment plans.
  • Collaboration. Collaborating with physicians, oncologists, and other health care professionals to develop and implement comprehensive care plans tailored to each patient.
  • End-of-life care. Providing compassionate care and support to terminally ill cancer patients and their families, including palliative care and hospice services.
  • Research and clinical trials. Participating in and supporting cancer research and clinical trials, often by enrolling eligible patients and closely monitoring their progress.
  • Documentation. Maintaining detailed and accurate patient records to ensure continuity of care and compliance with health care regulations.
  • Prevention. Promoting cancer prevention and early detection through community outreach and education programs.

These responsibilities encompass the multifaceted role of oncology nurses, emphasizing not only clinical expertise but also the crucial elements of compassion, communication, and support throughout the cancer journey.

What Are the Qualifications to Become an Oncology Nurse?

To become an oncology nurse, you’ll need to start by completing an accredited nursing program, which can be an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) — though most employers prefer a BSN for more advanced roles, such as oncology nurse. After graduating, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become a licensed registered nurse (RN).

To specialize in oncology nursing, you can earn an oncology nursing certification from a recognized organization, such as the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC). While a certification isn’t always mandatory, it can enhance your credentials and oncology nurse salary potential. ONCC also offers more specialized certifications, such as Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON) and Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN).

Additionally, many oncology nurses join oncology nursing associations, such as the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), to network with peers, access resources, and stay informed about industry trends. With dedication, competence, and passion, you can excel in your role and potentially advance to positions such as oncology nurse practitioner or nurse educator.

Oncology Nurse Salary and Job Outlook

According to Payscale, the average annual oncology nurse salary is about $82,092 as of September 2023. While salary can differ based on experience level and geographic location, every oncology nurse position offers competitive pay due to high demand.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects demand for RNs, including oncology nurses, to grow by 6% from 2022 to 2032, a growth rate that’s faster than average for all occupations. In 2022 alone, the U.S. had over 3 million unfilled nursing positions; the BLS projects an average of 193,100 openings annually through 2032.

Oncology nurse salaries are strong, and so is employer demand for years to come. Although the role is undoubtedly challenging, a strong career path is possible for those who have the commitment and willingness to serve others.

Become an Oncology Nurse

If you feel called to a career as an oncology nurse, you should start by earning a BSN from a reputable institution. For individuals already licensed as RNs in North Carolina, North Carolina Central University’s online RN to BSN provides a transfer credit-friendly program to complete their degree.

Employers across the state hire our graduates because they make a measured difference in the communities they serve. Are you ready to make your mark? Explore the online RN to BSN today.

Sources:

Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine, “Role of the Oncology Nurse”

Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation, Get Certified

Oncology Nursing Society, The Oncology Nursing Specialty  

Payscale, Average Nurse Oncology Hourly Pay

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

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