A lot of people who would like to enter the profession of nursing have a particular interest in nursing. Perhaps they or someone they love and care for has gone through cancer, which has heightened their interest. Some simply have a genuine interest, with many having philanthropic ideas about being able to beat cancer altogether. Becoming an oncology nurse requires a lot of specialized training, which you must look into if you are interested in this particular path. There are various different pathways to becoming an oncology nurse, as you will see.
The Education Pathways
If you want to become an oncology nurse, you should take the time to look into the different colleges and universities that offer these specialized programs. There are also a number of hospital training programs, which take three years to complete. However, these places are hard to find and you will have to stand out in order to beat the competition for these spots.
Most people would choose to complete a university degree. This is a dual tracked course, which takes four years to complete. The first part of the degree focuses on general nursing and the second part is about working in the field in actual settings. This gives the student the necessary experience to actually get to work.
In order to become an oncology nurse, you can either follow the Bachelor of Science (BSN) route, or the Associate Degree (ADN). The BSN is generally the better option, as this is a more detailed qualification that will allow you to stand out from the other applicants once you are ready to start work. Once you have completed your degree and you have gained a number of years practical experience and you have shown a commitment to your continuous education, you can choose to obtain a Master’s Degree as well. The Master’s Degree can generally be fully completed online, although some do require a practicum as well.
There are also a number of online options available for those who wish to become an oncology nurse. These programs have been targeted at older students who already have employment, but are equally suitable for those who have other commitments, such as a family, which makes it impossible to attend full time schooling. However, as nursing is a hands-on profession, they will have to find a placement somewhere to gain the practical experience. In most cases, the schools and universities will assist in finding these places so that the student is enabled to complete all their practical hours as well.
Nurses have to show a full commitment to their continuous professional education in order to retain their license. A nursing license is obtained by sitting and passing the NCLEX examination, offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Once you have completed this exam successfully, you will be able to become a Registered Nurse (RN), after which you will specialize in oncology.
Different states have different rules and regulations that nurses have to look into. This means that you cannot presume that your qualification, education and pass rates will necessarily enable you to work all over the country. This is particularly true once you start to specialize from RN to oncology nurse. Hence, it is very important to look into the regulations in the state you want to work in. Not all states will require you to be specifically certified as an oncology nurse, but it can be highly beneficial to have this additional qualification, as it shows your dedication to the profession.
Prerequisites Towards Becoming an Oncology Nurse
The prerequisites towards becoming an oncology nurse will vary depending on the school you choose to attend. However, most schools have a number of requirements, including:
- Minimum SAT scores or ACT
- Average GPA of between 2.5 and 3.5
- Excellent grades in subjects such as maths, science and languages
- A pass on the TOEFL for those with English as a second language
Some universities also have additional requirements, including:
- Letters of recommendation
- Essays and personal statements
- A statistics course
One of the most important things is that you only study at programs that are fully accredited. Accreditation means that their education is recognized as being of high quality and suitable to actually work as a nurse. It is sometimes possible to study at a non-accredited course and still gain admission to the NCLEX exam. However, non-accredited education does not count towards your continuous professional education. This means that you will not be able to retain your license.
There are a number of accrediting bodies in our country. Two main bodies are:
- ACEN, the Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing. Some still refer to these as NLNAC. They provide accreditation to all types of nursing degrees and courses.
- CCNE, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, who accredit BSN and MSN programs only.
Certification is obtained by sitting and passing the NCLEX-RN exam. This exam demonstrates that you have the competency to deliver the four elements of nursing, being:
- Providing a safe and effective care environment, which includes a focus on infection control.
- Having psychological integrity, which means you are able to cope with the pressures and demands of the job.
- Health maintenance and promotion, which means you are committed to preventative medicine and early intervention, thereby avoiding larger health problems from developing.
- Physiological integrity, which means you are committed to making sure those you care for are comfortable and safe.
The Cost of Becoming an Oncology Nurse
The exact cost of becoming an oncology nurse will vary depending on the school you choose and the education pathway you decide to follow. Additionally, you have to understand that study fees are higher than just the tuition fees, as you also need to factor in the cost of books, accommodation and travel. An associate’s degree costs, on average $31,000 for the full program, which is one of the reasons why many people choose this pathway over the BSN route. However, your career options and remuneration package will be much better as a BSN, meaning you should be able to earn back the cost of your degree.
Scholarships for Oncology Nurses
There is a huge demand for nursing professionals as our population ages and people have increasingly unhealthy eating habits. This is why a number of scholarships and financial aid programs have been put in place for those who wish to become an oncology nurse. It is generally best to look at what the school you have chosen offers in terms of financial aid, but some of the more popular scholarships you could apply for include:
- The Oncology Nursing Society
- The Pearl Moore Career Development Award
- The Mary Scherbring Oncology Nursing Society Institutes of Learning Conference Scholarships
Working as an Oncology Nurse
As an oncology nurse, it will be your role to care for cancer patients in various stages of their disease. You will administer chemotherapy, help identify ways to treat their symptoms and monitor the progress they have made. Furthermore, they will help to create a supportive environment for their patients. Often, oncology nurses specialize in fields such as breast cancer, pediatric hematology or geriatric cancer.
A large part of your job will be to provide education to your patients about the treatment options that are available to them, the procedures they will have to go through and what the disease actually means. This means that you will also spend a lot of time studying, as you will always need to be at the forefront of new developments and research.
It takes a special person to become an oncology nurse, as you will have to work with people whose lives are at real risk and who are often terminal. This means that you need to have a lot of emotional stability as you will have to be there for both the patient and their family. Often, treatment will fail and the patient will lose their battle, which is also something you will need to be able to cope with.
If you do feel that this is the right position for you, then you have a promising job outlook to look forward to. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a 26% rise in jobs between now and 2020. This is a much faster rise than other careers. This is due to the fact that both the workforce and the population are aging. Those with a specialized degree will be particularly desirable. The median salary for a registered nurse is $67,930, but you are likely to earn well above that as an oncology nurse.