How to Become an Oncology Nurse

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at CTU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

There are many different types of nursing careers available, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the job outlook for registered nurses (RNs) will grow by 16% through 2024.1 One particular nursing workforce estimated to be on the rise is oncology. The National Cancer Institute predicted that the number of cancer patients in the U.S. will increase from 38 million in 2005 to 57 million in 2020. As a result of this growing number of patients and the rising complexity of cancer care, the demand for cancer services is also likely to increase dramatically.2

Before diving into the field of cancer care or oncology nursing, however, it may be beneficial to review the skills and education needed for this career.

Skills and Characteristics

Oncology nurses, as with most other medical specialties, should have a deep interest in the field itself as well as caring for people. These nurses must be kind and genuine individuals. It is also important that an oncology nurse be resilient as there are some days that might be overwhelming and, alternatively, others that may be gratifying. Oncology nurses should also develop a healthy perspective and not let their hearts get hard with the patient sufferings they may see. Some challenges of oncology nursing are remaining objective and balancing each patient’s emotional and physical needs, no matter how demanding a day may become.3

Required Education

To begin the path of becoming an oncology nurse, a student must first obtain a nursing license through an approved diploma, associate degree or Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program. After obtaining a nursing degree, the student must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and can pursue a career as a registered nurse (RN). A licensed RN can apply to work toward a specialty area, such as oncology, and gain experience in a hospital or other treatment facility.4

Certifications and Licenses

An RN looking to pursue oncology specifically may want to earn additional certifications to become an Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN) or an Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist (AOCNS). Both of these certifications are offered by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC). The ONCC also offers other specialized certifications for oncology nurses, including:5

  • Blood & Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse (BMTCN)
  • Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN)
  • Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON)

The various certifications awarded by the ONCC have their own particular requirements for education and experience. For instance, to become an OCN, a minimum of 12 months of RN experience and at least 1,000 hours of adult oncology nursing practice is necessary within 30 months of applying to take the certification exam. A candidate must also have a minimum of ten contact hours of continuing nursing education in oncology or an academic elective in oncology within the 36 months prior to the application.5 In order to maintain an ONCC certification, nurses need to renew their certification every four years.6

Job Market for Oncology Nurses

As in all nursing careers, job market projections suggest a projected growth through the year 2024.1 Oncology nurses, in particular, are projected to be in higher demand as the baby boomer generation ages and due to the fact that cancer frequency increases exponentially with age.7

What to Expect on a Daily Basis

The growing field of oncology nursing has many environments in which individuals can work, including hospitals, outpatient care facilities, physicians' offices, long-term care facilities and home health agencies. While specific daily tasks may vary depending on where someone works, the main duties of oncology nurses include the following:7

  • Creating a treatment plan with physicians
  • Keeping detailed health records to ensure an accurate history is recorded
  • Tracking all lab work, imaging and pathology
  • Helping patients to understand their diagnosis, treatment plan and potential side effects
  • Answering questions and simplifying medical jargon to help patients understand their situations
  • Assessing the emotional and physical state of patients
  • Administering chemotherapy treatment and any other medication
  • Helping patients to manage any symptoms they have during their treatment
  • Communicating with physicians on the patient's behalf to address any concerns
  • Providing counseling for cancer prevention
  • Offer families support and education

Since oncology nursing is considered extremely demanding on a person, physical or emotional burnout can happen. In order to take care of others properly, self-maintenance must be an additional priority for oncology nurses. Caring for cancer patients is physically, mentally and emotionally strenuous8 but may still make for a personally rewarding career.

Earn Your BSN at CTU

Colorado Technical University offers a bachelor’s degree program designed to build upon prior nursing education, certification and experience. Colorado Technical University’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org). Learn more about CTU’s nursing degrees.


1. “Registered Nurses.” Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm (Visited 7/3/17).
2. “Supply and Demand in the Oncology Workforce.” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK215252/ (Visited 10/6/17).
3. “Caring for Cancer Patients: A Nurse’s Perspective.” Retrieved from: http://www.cancercenter.com/community/newsletter/article/caring-for-cancer-patients-a-nurses-perspective/ (Visited 7/3/17).
4. “How to Become a Registered Nurse.” Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-4 (Visited 7/3/17).
5. “Oncology Certified Nurse.” Retrieved from: http://www.oncc.org/certifications/oncology-certified-nurse-ocn (Visited 7/3/17).
6. “Oncology Certified Nurse: Applying for Certification” Retrieved from: http://www.oncc.org/certifications/oncology-certified-nurse-ocn#28546-tab (Visited 7/3/17).
7. “Cancer in the Elderly.” Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1500929/ (Visited 7/3/17).
8. “The Role of the Oncology Nurse.” Retrieved from: http://www.cancercenter.com/community/newsletter/article/the-role-of-the-oncology-nurse/ (Visited 7/3/17).

For important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended this program, go to www.coloradotech.edu/disclosures. CTU cannot guarantee employment or salary. Not all programs are available to residents of all states. Financial aid is available for those who qualify.
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