Welcome to the ultimate guide on how to become an Oncology Nurse!
The article covers the level of education, years of experience, and licensing you to need to pursue this nursing specialty.
With the information in this guide, you will be able to make a well-informed decision about becoming an Oncology Nurse.
In this article, we will cover the following items:
Let’s dig in!
Working in the oncology nursing department poses both emotional and intellectual challenges yet is rewarding in the long run.
The primary duty of Nurses is to collaborate with other health care providers to have a considerable influence on the emotional well-being of patients and the outcome of their long-term health.
Oncology Nurses work mainly in hospitals, physician offices, cancer centers, and other cancer care facilities.
You may also find them working in healthcare facilities or in nursing care homes.
Their responsibilities involve administering prescriptions, updating medical records, and caring for patients after surgeries and infusions.
They are the primary caregivers of cancer patients.
They are also the ones who educate oncology patients about their illness and the suitable treatment options.
The duties of an Oncology Nurse involve the provision of primary care to stressed patients and those who are in physical pain.
Hence, one of the most crucial characteristics and skills required for one to work in oncology as an Oncology Nurse is outstanding communication abilities to comfort families.
The skill is also crucial in empathizing with their predicament without overwhelming you emotionally.
Steps on How to Become an Oncology Nurse
The nursing profession is demanding; hence before you can land a job as an Oncology Nurse, you must prove your experience, knowledge, and commitment.
That is why you need a nursing license.
The prospective Nurse must demonstrate a complete commitment to continuing professional education to earn the registered nursing license.
To specialize in nursing, you must meet the requirements of the State Boards of Nursing.
They are as described below:
Earn your ADN or BSN
The process of becoming an Oncology Nurse starts with becoming a Nurse.
Hence, you must first enroll and complete nursing school.
The allowable programs are the ADN or a BSN, which will take varying times to complete.
Additionally, the tuition for the two programs differs where the BSN is higher than that payable for ADN.
The BSN is preferred for many oncology nursing jobs, especially high-level ones.
The NCLEX-RN exam
This test is a multiple-choice exam that takes hours to complete.
The typical nursing topics tested by the exam include nursing practice, ethical issues, and technical skills are also tested.
This is a crucial step in becoming a licensed Nurse.
Experience in the industry
One of the significant requirements for Nurses interested in earning a specialty in oncology nursing is experience.
Hence, Registered Nurses who have earned the RN license must start their oncology nursing career with entry-level employment.
The settings and expertise that a Registered Nurse can work in include surgical, oncology, pediatric, and marrow transplants.
Oncology Certification and Licensure
Cancer care entails a high level of intricacy.
Hence, many employers often demand or prefer to hire Oncology Nurses who have a certification.
The oncology nursing profession has general oncology nursing qualifications and specialties.
When enrolling for certification, you must meet the criteria.
These include a nursing experience of at least 24 months of general and not less than 2,000 hours.
The experience must have been met within the previous four years.
Other essential requirements are the Continuing Education (CE) hours.
Oncology Nurse Education
You can take the earlier mentioned two routes in pursuing an Oncology Nurse profession; the BSN or ADN.
While each course has its set of pros and cons, so far, the BSN route poses the more preferred route.
The reasons include the meticulousness of the qualification, which earns you a competitive edge against other candidates in the job market.
You, however, earn a higher advantage with an MSN degree.
The MSN degree can be accomplished physically, entirely online, or in a hybrid way though you must meet the practical hours.
What to look for in a school?
The nursing programs offered in different health institutions differ, and some may be better suited than others.
So, how do you gauge a program’s suitability?
It would help if you considered several factors when researching programs to enroll in.
- Accreditation of the program
You are prohibited from enrolling in a program that lacks formal credentials.
Hence, confirm with the official credentialing body to confirm its certification for all the options you have settled on.
The two central certifying bodies are the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
Enrolling with an uncredited institution poses various issues, such as being disqualified from earning federal financial aid.
Also, you risk losing in your oncology nursing journey since you cannot take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).
Applying for an RN license and finding work as a Nurse require passing the board examination.
- Job placement and career coaching
Examine whether the institution has strong ties to local medical facilities or a vibrant alumni network, lest you will struggle with completing the required clinical hours.
- The pass rate for the NCLEX-RN exam
How well do their students perform in the NCLEX-RN exam? The best answer comes from looking at student pass rates for the most recent academic year.
It gives you a one-on-one feel of the program and how it will prepare you for the test.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
It takes students four years to complete the BSN degree, provided they enroll for full-time study.
However, students who have credits from another bachelor’s degree or AP credits take a shorter period to earn the BSN program.
As you shop around for an institution to enroll in, you will discover that the admissions criteria differ for each school.
Some are far more stringent than others.
It will cost you more in time and financial resources to earn a BSN degree, but the rewards are enormous in the long run.
This is because the job market for Oncology Nurses seeks BSN candidates over ADN candidates.
Additionally, when enrolling for an MSN, one of the requirements is a BSN degree.
- Admission Requirements: Most institutions require a GPA score of not less than 3.0 GPA when applying for a BSN degree
Other requirements include passing marks in math and science.
You must also write a personal statement when seeking admission into an institution.
- Program Curriculum: The BSN program covers general topics and nursing-related topics
You can expect to take topics in nursing practice, public health and social determinants of health, biology, and anatomy, etc.
General topics covered include communications, the healthcare system, nursing leadership, etc.
- Course duration: It will typically take four years to complete a BSN degree program
- Skills Learned: The program also equips you with the knowledge necessary for documenting medical records, utilizing medical equipment to perform detailed screenings and assessments, and the daily procedures of a nursing program, such as inserting a feeding tube
You will also be taught how to communicate with patients.
Associate Degree in Nursing
It is common for many prospective nurses to begin their careers as ADNs.
The reasons may differ, but the most common causes include the shorter course duration (usually two years) and the less stringent admittance requirements for most ADN schools over BSN programs.
While the advantages are clear, many facilities prefer hiring BSN candidates.
Additionally, you may want to advance and earn an MSN degree; you may be held back due to a lack of a BSN and opt for a BSN or a bridging program.
- Admission Requirements: Most institutions require a minimum high school diploma or GED certificate – you must also have achieved a GPA of not less than 2.0
- Program Curriculum: The BSN program covers general topics and nursing-related topics – you can expect to take topics in nursing practice, the healthcare system, basic human biology and anatomy, public health, etc.
- Program duration: It will typically take two years to complete an ADN degree program – however, if you have AP credits, it will take you a shorter period to finish
- Skills Learned: The course also teaches you how to keep medical records and use various medical equipment
Other crucial lessons learned include standard medical procedures such as inserting of feeding tubes and patient communications.
Oncology Nurse Practitioner candidates need a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.
A master’s degree which focuses on healthcare is required for specialization.
Candidates who want to practice as Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, etc must qualify as Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs).
APRNs must also earn a license that proves they are Registered Nurses in their state.
Before acquiring the license they must sit for and pass the national certification exam offered by the certifying body.
Although the typical course duration for most MSN programs is two years, the time may vary depending on your institution.
MSN candidates who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field can enroll in an entry-level MSN program.
These programs are known as Master’s Entry Programs in Nursing (MEPN) and usually take three years to complete.
Costs and topics covered vary across different MSN programs.
However, you should expect to cover topics like Health Policy in Nursing, Disease Prevention, and Legal Aspects of Healthcare Administration.
Different Oncology Nursing Certification
To be an Oncology Nurse, you must earn and maintain an RN license.
While certification is not a legal requirement for practicing oncology nursing, many employers have a common requirement.
Certification acts as a demonstration of your commitment to ongoing learning and specialized knowledge of oncology nursing.
Additionally, certification in the field boosts your confidence, keeps your knowledge up to date, and helps you provide the best possible patient care to cancer patients.
It also earns you an advantage in the competition for jobs and can enhance your annual salary.
The following certifications are available, depending on your interests and experience:
Oncology Certified Nurse
The Oncology Certified Nurse is the most comprehensive oncology certification.
The certification has a particular focus on adult oncology nursing.
Before enrolling for the certification, you should confirm that you have met the necessary criteria.
These include having at least 24 months of nursing experience and at least 2,000 hours within the last four years.
You must also pass a certification exam and complete continuing education.
Candidates who have ongoing classroom hours are also eligible.
Certified Breast Care Nurse
The Certified Breast Care Nurse certification covers breast cancer prevention and therapy.
Prospective candidates must fulfill admission requirements which include a minimum of two years of nursing experience and at least 2,000 hours of pediatric breast care nursing experience in the previous four years.
The certification also necessitates contact hours of Continuing education (CE) and passing a certification exam.
Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner
Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioners must partake in an exam that only applies for accreditation as an Oncology Nurse Practitioner.
In other words, it enables you to become a Certified Advanced Oncology Nurse.
It also acknowledges your oncology nursing expertise and advanced practice position.
Candidates must have a graduate degree from an accredited Nurse Practitioner program and focus on oncology concentration.
Other requirements include at least 500 hours of supervised clinical practice as an adult Oncology Nurse Practitioner within the last five years.
Hours fulfilled during or after the graduate program are allowed.
Other crucial requirements include one graduate-level oncology course of at least two credits or 30 hours of oncology continuing education which must also have been fulfilled within the last five years.
Certified Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Nurse
The Certified Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Nurse accreditation focuses on treating children with hematological illnesses like leukemia and lymphoma.
Prospective candidates must fulfill admission requirements, including 24 months of nursing experience and at least 2,000 hours of experience in the last four years.
The certification also necessitates Continuing education (CE), whether ongoing or completed and passing a certification exam.
The Best Nursing Programs for an Oncology Career
The main requirements for launching an oncology career include an active nursing license and experience.
However, many Nurses prefer to pursue post-graduate education in cancer nursing.
This could be in the form of a certificate or a master’s degree.
So as you shop around for a suitable program to launch your oncology nursing career, here are some of the best nursing programs that offer the same.
University of Pennsylvania
It will cost you at least $75,222 to earn a certificate in cancer nursing at the University of Pennsylvania.
The program lasts for a year and allows for an online (hybrid) mode of study.
Although the adult oncology specialty credential at the University of Pennsylvania is expensive, it grants candidates 250 hours of clinical experience.
Additionally, Nurses who complete the cancer nursing certificate at UPenn are eligible for the certifications of Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner and Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist.
It will cost you around $22,056 annually to earn a Master’s Degree in cancer nursing at Duke University.
The program lasts for a year and does not allow for an online mode of study.
The MSN with a focus in oncology at Duke University ranks as one of the best graduate nursing programs accessible.
First, the program complies with the Oncology Nursing Society’s Scope and Standards for Advanced Practice in Oncology Nursing and takes a brief period to complete (usually one year).
Candidates enrolled in the MSN program at Duke University also earn 224 clinical hours and nine credit hours during the program.
It will cost you around $47,114 annually to earn a Master’s Degree in cancer nursing at Yale University.
The program lasts for two years and does not allow for an online mode of study.
The university is an Ivy League school and has the most well-respected graduate nursing programs nationally.
Yale University’s MSN with a concentration in oncology allows Nurses to pair a Nurse Practitioner specialization with oncology.
The program is an NP program, and students must complete hundreds of clinical hours.
Additionally, since different NP specializations set different credit and experience requirements, this program could last longer or shorter than two years.
University of Southern Florida
It will cost you around $6,410 and $17,324 to complete a Master’s Degree in cancer nursing at the University of Southern Florida in-State and out-of-state.
The program lasts for three years and does not allow for an online mode of study.
The University of Southern Florida’s BSN-DNP emphasizes cancer/adult-gerontology primary care.
This Nurse Practitioner program is available in both part-time and full-time formats.
The duration and expense of this program depend on a student’s rapidness to complete their coursework and earn the required clinical experience.
However, it has a special requirement for applicants, where they must warm a Florida state RN license to become eligible for the program.
It will cost you around $69,246 annually to complete a DNP in cancer nursing at Columbia University.
The program lasts between two to four years and does not allow for an online mode of study.
Columbia University, unlike other programs, allows students to specialize in either adult or pediatric oncology.
Additionally, because the program is offered as a DNP, it is open to both BSN and MSN holders.
However, MSN holders with a valid NP license can complete the program faster and incur a lower overall cost of the doctoral degree.
Being an Oncology Nurse is a worthwhile profession for any Nurse looking to pursue a successful career.
With the information on how to be an Oncology Nurse, you can estimate how long it will take you to become a licensed professional.
All the best in getting your OCN certification and your career!