Is Oncology Nursing Right for You?

by Howard Gerber on June 20, 2013

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Oncology nurses are usually RNs or nurse practitioners who specialize in working with cancer patients. Working as an oncology nurse can be extremely rewarding, but it also has its challenges. As with all specialty areas of nursing, it is essential to weigh the positives with the negatives in order to decide if oncology nursing is right for you.


Oncology nurses may have a wide variety of duties. Nurses may administer chemotherapy to patients, complete assessments, help patients manage side effects of treatment, and educate patients on their disease and how to cope with symptoms.  Some oncology nurses may also work in palliative care, and help patients deal with end of life issues. While oncology nurses may work with patients will all different types of cancers, some specialize and only work with patients with a certain type of cancer or a specific patient population, such as children with cancer.


All oncology nurses must be graduates from an accredited registered nursing program and have obtained a state nursing license. Requirements to start working in oncology may vary by place of employment. For instance, some hospitals may train new nurses while others require nurses have oncology nurse certification. Certifications including oncology certified nurse and certified breast care nurse are available through professional organizations, such as Oncology Nursing Certifications Corporation.

Characteristics Needed

Similar to all types of nurses, oncology nurses must enjoy helping people, be empathetic, and have excellent communications skills. A big part of the job for oncology nurses is educating patients on how to deal with symptoms and side effects from cancer treatments. Oncology nurses should also have a commitment to continuing education. Cancer treatments are continually changing, and nurses have to stay up to date on the latest information. 


Working as an oncology nurse can be a very worthwhile and rewarding career choice. Oncology nurses may have the opportunity to work with the same patients over time. Nurses may see patients get well and recover from their condition. It is also rewarding to know you helped a patient deal with a very difficult medical battle. Since cancer treatments can include a variety of options, oncology nursing can provide a great opportunity for learning.


Every job has both positive and negative aspects, and oncology nursing is no different. Although the job of an oncology nurse can be gratifying, it also has its downside. Life threatening complications can develop quickly for patients with cancer, which can be a stressful aspect of the profession. Oncology nurses may see patients repeatedly over long periods of time. They may get to know the patients and their families. When a patient dies, especially a patient you have gotten to know well, the death can be difficult to deal with.

If oncology nursing is something that interests you, there are opportunities in hospitals, cancer centers, outpatient clinics and hospices. Some oncology nurses may also work in case management and home care. There may also be travel assignments throughout the country for oncology nurses, especially those with oncology certifications.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol 12.28.14 at 2:25 pm

I ‘m interested in oncology nursing and have learned that almost all clinics, hospitals require 1-2 yrs experience. So if a nurse does not have any experience in oncology, but would like to work in this specialty, what would this nurse need to do or can do?

Kaitlyn Mayfield 10.14.15 at 5:36 pm

I’m doing a research project on oncology nurse practitioner and would like to know some more pros and cons on this career choice.


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