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Oncology Nurse

Before the 1950's, most cancer patients received surgery, so nurses employed in oncology clinics typically provided inpatient care. Ever since radiation and chemotherapy treatments have been utilized, oncology nurses have been assigned more specialized duties.

Advances in oncology nursing and cancer treatment began during the 1970s. In 1971, Congress enacted the National Cancer Act to reduce cancer-related deaths and improve the quality of life for recovering cancer patients. Since this legislation, survival rates for cancer victims have increased and changes to the practice of oncology have been made.

Oncology nursing has adapted in response to these factors:
  • Emphasis placed on recognizing early cancer growth when it's treatable and identifying individuals with risk factors
  • National and worldwide recognition that cancer is a debilitating and deadly health problem
  • Technological advances
  • Increased public awareness and concern about cancer
These factors have altered nursing practices and increased demand for nurses with specialized training.

Roles
Oncology nurses conduct research, hold administration positions, teach at nursing schools, and provide direct patient care. These specialists are employed at all medical settings, including hospitals, consulting firms, cancer treatment facilities, doctors' offices, assisted living facilities, veterans' hospitals, and any other facility where cancer patients receive treatment.

Oncology nurses manage care, discuss patients' conditions with physicians and other cancer specialists, and coordinate treatments for recovering patients.

Advanced practitioners supervise patient care, evaluate staff member performance, meet with family members of cancer victims, and occasionally provide diagnoses.

Oncology nurses working as coordinators are responsible for organizing and managing treatment. Often, they're responsible for overseeing the efforts of multiple specialists working in teams. When managing care, coordinators must set attainable goals for patients.

Oncology nurses employed by consulting firms meet with other nurses, doctors, healthcare administrators, teachers, other medical specialists, and business executives to provide expert knowledge and offer solutions to complex problems. Oncology nurses employed in educator positions develop and implement education programs designed for students and patients.

Oncology nurses specializing in research come up with research questions, organize and conduct research, and utilize findings to improve cancer treatments.

Nurses employed in management or administrative positions are responsible for overseeing care in facilities where multiple patients are treated simultaneously. As such, they supervise staff members, ensure treatments are delivered effectively, and develop environments where optimum healthcare can be delivered.

Specialties
Oncology nurses can specialize in palliative, acute, and preventative care, in addition to various types of cancer. Many oncology nurses specialize in:
  • Breast oncology
  • Chemotherapy
  • Biotherapy
  • Hematology
  • Surgical oncology
  • Radiation
  • GYN oncology
  • Cancer genetic counseling
  • Bone marrow transplant
Qualifications
Oncology nurses are required to be registered nurses with specialized training. They must complete training to become acquainted with basic cancer treatment knowledge and skills. Additionally, they must obtain some clinical experience beyond what is acquired in general nursing training programs.

Oncology nurses are required to participate in professional development activities, such as continuing education, quality review and improvement, and assessment of colleague research conclusions.

Advanced oncology practitioners have developed advanced training in practical and theoretical aspects of oncology nursing, and they possess years of patient care experience. Additionally, they hold graduate degrees.

Oncology nurses can learn new skills and enhance job opportunities and earning potential by becoming certified as oncology certified nurses (OCNs), certified pediatric oncology nurses (CPONs), or advanced oncology certified nurses (AOCNs). Contact the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation for additional details.

The Oncology Nursing Society sponsors a chemotherapy training program, so oncologists and oncology nurses administer consistent treatments at cancer treatment facilities nationwide. After completing the training, nurses demonstrate the ability to effectively administer chemotherapy. Licenses must be renewed every 2 years. Contact the Oncology Nursing Society for more information.

Practice Settings
Oncology nurses are employed at hospitals, cancer treatment centers, medical clinics, and various other settings where cancer treatment is administered. They work at both in and outpatient clinics. Large quantities of oncology nurses work at National Cancer Institute recognized facilities. Additionally, these specialists can be found at assisted living facilities, palliative care centers, home healthcare companies, and public health centers. They also work at doctors' offices, nursing schools, and some open private practices. Many oncology nurses find jobs at pharmaceutical companies.

Salary Range
Entry-level salaries for oncology nurses typically begin at $35,000 a year, while advanced practitioners can make anywhere from $60,000 - 125,000 annually.

Education
To qualify for an entry-level oncology nursing position, you must have generalized nursing knowledge and be licensed as a registered nurse. To become an advanced practitioner, you must obtain a graduate degree.

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