While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t offer specific figures for oncology nurses, it does state that employment of RNs is projected to increase 22 percent to 3.2 million jobs by 2018. Oncology nurses will be in demand as our population ages and advances in cancer treatment continue to reframe the illness as chronic and responsive to long–term management. Salary.com recently reported that oncology nurses earned a median annual salary of $64,072.
Most nurses in this field work in hospitals, but a significant percentage are employed in medical offices and ambulatory care facilities or provide home health care. Since cancer can happen to virtually anyone, oncology nurses can work with children and specialize in pediatric oncology, or care for adults.
Day in the life
If you choose a career in oncology, you would work as part of a team with other cancer-care providers. You would attend to patients who are diagnosed with cancer at all stages of the disease. Since it manifests itself in many forms and responds to a wide variety of treatment, there would be no typical day. Your game plan would change pending an individual’s diagnosis and where they are in a course of therapy. In general, however, your daily activities would include: caring for patients with cancer, offering education and support to your patients and their families, administering medications, managing the illness and its treatment-related side effects, and assessing your patients’ needs on an ongoing basis.
All nursing requires a high level of emotional stability, compassion and empathy, yet these traits have to be tempered with a certain clinical distance. In oncology you’ll need even more than usual. Nurses often work in one-on-one situations with their patients, and over the course of treatment develop relationships with them and their families. As a result, you would need to be able to cope with the fear, pain and grief, as well as the suffering, death and dying of people you’ve come to know.
Although your best bet for employment and advancement is a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), you could start your career with a two–year associate degree. In order to become an oncology nurse specialist, you will need to learn skills specific to cancer care through courses and clinical practice. Regardless of the undergraduate degree you’ve attained, oncology certification is preferred. For more information visit the website for the Oncology Nursing Society.