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Oncology Nurse Careers and Salary Outlook 2020

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Registered nurses who want to care for people with cancer can become an oncology nurse. Oncology nursing incorporates a variety of subspecialties, allowing nurses to work with children or adults, with patients with specific types of cancer, or as treatment providers or care managers. Read on to learn how to become an oncology nurse, what it takes to earn an oncology nurse degree, and oncology nurse requirements.

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What is an Oncology Nurse?

What is an oncology nurse? Registered nurses become oncology nurses through specialized training and on-the-job experience. They provide direct patient care and ongoing supportive care for patients and their families, often helping them make informed medical decisions and coordinating treatment among a team of physicians.

With proper training and experience, registered nurses may pursue an oncology nursing credential. Some nurses continue their education to become advanced practice nurses specializing in oncology. These medical providers assume more responsibility for patient care and treatment planning.

  • What Do Oncology Nurses Do?

    Oncology nurses work with patients suffering from cancer or undergoing cancer treatments. They educate and care for high-risk patients or those in remission from cancer. Oncology nurses monitor conditions, track symptoms, prescribe medication and assist in radiation and chemotherapy treatments. This nursing field can be draining emotionally and physically, but many oncology nurses also find it rewarding. Tasks and patients differ each day, making it less monotonous than other nursing positions.

    Some nurses oversee care coordination, helping patients navigate the healthcare system and track multiple doctors’ appointments. They also help patients and families access community resources. As new therapies advance cancer treatment, oncology nurses must ensure patients and families understand the risks and can identify potential complications, especially with the advent of at-home chemotherapy.

    Some oncology nurses further specialize in palliative care, helping patients with pain management. This subspecialization may include hospice care and home care. Oncology nurses may, with proper training and licensure, also prescribe medication. Some nurses may also take administrative roles in cancer care clinics, such as supervising patient safety procedures or implementing quality care assessments. These administrative tasks typically draw on experience in direct patient care and care coordination.

  • Where Do Oncology Nurses Work?

    Nearly half (43%) of oncology nurses work in hospitals as part of a cancer care team. This team often includes surgeons, radiologists, and oncologists. The team may also include the patient’s primary care physician. Nurses providing care coordination services often communicate with each member of this team and the patient. They may remain on-call most days and nights to respond to patients’ needs.

    Other nurses work in outpatient facilities that serve patients with specialized cancer treatment, such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy. Oncology nurses may also work in physicians’ offices or in-home care or hospice services. Typically, these work settings provide fixed schedules. Nurses providing home care or hospice services may work nights, weekends, and holidays.

  • Skills That Could Affect Oncology Nurse Salaries

    Patients expect their oncology nurse to possess excellent patient care skills, such as checking blood pressure, placing IVs, or taking blood samples. Oncology nurses need superior reading comprehension skills to ensure they follow physician orders for medication dosage and follow-up care.

    Oncology nurses must also demonstrate compassion and understanding. They often work with patients suffering not only physically from their illness but emotionally, as well. Nurses must listen carefully to patients and take comprehensive notes regarding vital signs, treatment side effects, and emotional state.

    Oncology nurses often take on the role of health educator, ensuring patients understand the treatment and expected outcomes. They provide patients and families with a wealth of information about various treatment options and answer questions to help their patients make informed medical decisions. They also ensure patients understand the vital role they play in their care, improving patient compliance.

How to Become an Oncology Nurse

Becoming an oncology nurse requires both education and experience. Aspiring oncology nurses must meet the requirements to become a registered nurse. Requirements vary by state but typically include an approved nursing program of at least two years, followed by a rigorous exam. Some employers may also require professional certification in oncology.

Many people choose a career in nursing because of the ongoing need for registered nurses across the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for RNs will grow 12% through 2028, which is much faster than average. Properly trained nurses often find work wherever they live. Oncology nurses find their specialty to be emotionally rewarding as they build strong connections with their patients.


An associate degree is the minimum education necessary to become a registered nurse. Oncology nurse degree courses include anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and biology combined with hands-on clinical experience. Degree-seekers should ensure their chosen school is regionally accredited and holds approval from the state board of nursing.

Registered nurses often continue their education with a bachelor’s degree. Streamlined programs build upon their clinical expertise with courses in leadership and nursing theory. These programs allow RNs to continue working.

Many oncology nurse requirements include advanced education in nursing oncology. A graduate degree may also meet state requirements to become a nurse practitioner and prepare professionals for advanced clinical roles. Many schools cater to the needs of working nurses by offering online oncology nurse degrees.

Training and Certification

Each state controls licensing for registered nurses. The process typically includes a review of the applicant’s educational transcripts, a background check, and a passing score on the National Clinical Licensure Exam for RNs. This allows nurses to work in the state providing patient care.

Many oncology specialists may hire RNs who completed clinical rotations in oncology departments. However, they may require nurses to pursue an oncology credential. Professional credentials demonstrate nurses’ dedication to their specialty through continued education and passing a rigorous exam. A 2018 survey by Medscape found certification can increase a nurse’s salary by up to $7,000 each year.

The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation offers multiple oncology credentials, including the Oncology Certified Nurse credential. This requires two years of nursing experience with at least 2,000 hours of oncology nursing. The exam includes 165 questions specific to the care of oncology patients. The organization also offers credentials in pediatric hematology, breast care, and advanced oncology certified nursing.

Oncology Nurse Salaries and Job Growth

How much does an oncology nurse make? The BLS reports the median salary for RNs at $71,730, with nurses working in hospitals earning $73,650. PayScale found oncology nurses earn an average of $70,727, with the bottom 10th percentile reporting $51,000 in pay and the top 10th percentile earning $97,000. The PayScale review found oncology nurses out-earned their registered nurse counterparts, who reported an average salary of $63,263.

Oncology nurse salary depends on experience, special skills, and location. PayScale found training in telemetry increased an oncology nurse’s salary by up to 13%. Pediatric experience increased salary by 9% while radiation oncology experience increased pay by 8%. Entry-level oncology nurses earned an average of $53,146 compared to their late-career colleagues, who reported salaries averaging $79,825. Cities with a higher cost of living also offered higher pay for oncology nurses. Los Angeles, California, topped the list at $100,988.

Highest Salary Locations for Oncology Nurses
National Median $70,131
Los Angeles, California $100,988
Houston, Texas $76,442
Chicago, Illinois $74,338

Source: PayScale

Median Salary for Oncology Nurses by Career Experience

  • Entry Level: $53,146
  • Early Career: $60,481
  • Mid Career: $70,863
  • Experienced: $75,380
  • Late Career: $79,825

Source: PayScale

Related Job Salaries
Registered Nurse (RN) Certified Nurse Assistant Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Registered Nurse (RN), Emergency Room Registered Nurse (RN), Critical Care
$63,393 $27,891 $43,528 $66,391 $72,656

Source: PayScale

Oncology Nurse Resources

  • Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses This professional organization works specifically with nurses and other healthcare providers serving pediatric patients with cancer and blood disorders. The association formed in the 1970s to connect these providers as they shared best practices. The group established the chemotherapy/biotherapy program for pediatric providers to educate nurses on safely administering these powerful medications to children and adolescents. Today, the organization serves nurses, related healthcare providers, and students with continuing education, professional networking, and advocacy.
  • Oncology Nursing Society This professional society serves more than 35,000 members with continuing education on evidence-based treatment methods and a place to share experiences with other oncology nurses. Members enjoy career development tools, grants and scholarships for continued education, and oncology job announcements. The group also offers certification preparation.
  • Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation Formed in 1984, this organization administers nationally accredited certifications for oncology and related specializations. The group established professional and ethical standards for oncology nursing and independent verification that nurses meet those requirements. More than 39,000 nurses hold one of the organization’s eight credentials.
  • Job Search Nurses across the country can search for new career opportunities through this dedicated career board. The search function allows nurses to narrow their search by title, specialty, skill, or employer. Free registration allows nurses to post a resume, receive job alerts, and track their applications. The site also includes articles to help nurses with their job search.
  • American Nurses Association ANA helps nurses connect with their colleagues through online communities. Nurses discuss legislative proposals regarding nursing education or practice. Nurses at all career levels can obtain career assistance and participate in panels related to nursing ethics, professional policy, nurse abuse, and moral resilience.
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