The 7 Best Things About Being an Oncology Nurse
By Megan Krischke, contributor
Oncology nursing is a great career for nurses who enjoy ongoing relationships with patients and their families. It has its own unique requirements—things that can tax a nurse both professionally and emotionally—but it also offers tremendous rewards.
All oncology nurses must obtain a chemo-bio certification before administering chemotherapies and biotherapies. Nurses who work in this field must be very detail-oriented because the medication administration can be very complex.
There is also an oncology nurse certification that experienced RNs can earn from the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation. Employers see this certification as highly desirable for both inpatient and outpatient oncology nurses.
Oncology nursing salaries average around $70,000, according to Salary.com, with an average range of $62,000 - $78,000 per year. The actual rate you earn will depend on the state you live in, the amount of experience you have, and other factors.
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The 7 best things about oncology nursing
1. Helping to make a hard thing a little less difficult
“Honestly, my favorite thing about being an oncology nurse is taking care of patients on their first day of treatment,” said Nicole Rivers, RN, BSN, who works at a UCHealth infusion clinic in Greeley, Colo.
“When I started, that was the scariest part for me—the patient was anxious and I was anxious. But now, bringing them from the waiting room into the infusion room has become the most satisfying part of the job.”
“I go out and introduce myself and I can see the panic and fear on their faces,” she continued. “But at the end of the day, they will say, ‘That wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.’ There is a huge relief for them in just having gotten through that first day.”
2. Building ongoing relationships with patients
“I was always drawn to oncology nursing,” began Lindsay Ziegler, RN, BSN, a chemotherapy infusion nurse at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, Colo. “When I worked in post-op, most patients were in and out, but we also had some rehab patients and through that experience I realized that I liked having continuity with patients.”
Rivers also noted that although helping a patient through their first day is a very satisfying part of the job, the relationship really gets better from there.
“There is a special bond when you do get to take care of someone during their first treatment, then working with them several times a month. Knowing them helps give better care because I know what is normal, and not normal, for them,” she explained.
3. Perspective about what’s important
“I feel like the standard answer to what is great about oncology is that it is rewarding because you are doing something meaningful in someone else’s life,” Ziegler said. “But lately I’ve realized it is the patients who are giving me the blessing.”
“Working with people who are in a scary situation and hearing their stories is a constant reminder to me about what is important in life,” she reflected.
4. Patients who come back and visit
While working in oncology obviously means facing the reality of losing patients, there are also patients who overcome tremendous odds.
“The very first person that I treated after obtaining my oncology certification always stops by to see me when he comes in for check-ups. I love to see that he is doing great three years later and having the chance to catch up with him and hear about his family,” said Rivers. “It is wonderful to get those people who come back and say hi and let us know how they are doing.”
5. Helping patients make the most of the life they have
“I like the impact I can have on our patients’ lives,” stated Rivers. “One of my co-workers recently told me he was struggling with how many people we were losing. We can’t save everybody, it is a fact of life, but what matters is the time we have with those people and how we can touch their lives and make them better.”
Rivers notes that the nursing staff often works to arrange trips and special opportunities for their cancer patients. And Zeigler said she frequently puts patients in contact with the American Cancer Society because they will help with basic needs such as gas money and wigs.
“Sometimes it is as simple helping a patient feel well enough to work in the garden or hold a grandchild,” Rivers explained.
RELATED: The Nurse’s Role as Patient Advocate
6. Many oncology nurse jobs offer standard “office hours”
In the last decade or so, the majority of chemo and biotherapy infusion has moved to outpatient centers. So for nurses looking to get away from long, round-the-clock shifts, oncology nursing could be a great option.
7. Travel nursing jobs in oncology
Experienced oncology nurses can take the opportunity to become a travel nurse. As with staff positions, the oncology nursing salaries that travel RNs can expect will vary by location and employer. But getting paid to explore the country is an an incredible opportunity that few careers can offer.
The recruiters at American Mobile report consistent demand for travel oncology nurse jobs. Most assignments are about 13 weeks long and positions are available across the country. Free housing, travel reimbursements, health insurance and many other benefits are included.
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