5 Steps to Become an Oncology Nurse

April 30, 2015

Nurses are caring professionals by definition, but it takes a special breed to want to go into the field of oncology. Oncology nurses care and manage cancer patients who are usually critically ill, some even terminal. Each year, there are over 1,500,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society, so it is a growing specialty in need of good nurses.

Like most nursing professions, the oncology nurse works under the supervision of a doctor, and may do procedures such radiation therapy, chemotherapy and blood transfusions. Within this one industry, there are a number of nursing opportunities as well. If you are thinking about specializing and oncology is a field that interests you, consider the steps necessary to achieve this goal.

1. Bachelor of Science in Nursing, BSN

It starts with that basic nursing education that takes two to four years to complete. It is possible to get an oncology certification with an associate’s degree, but a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree is recommended for nurses that want to continue their training and specialize in one field.

Nurses with an LPN license or two-year degree can take a BSN bridge program at an accredited school to qualify for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Someone who has a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field can also obtain a BNS using an accelerated program.

2. Nursing Experience

Once you graduate from an accredited nursing program, you must work in the nursing field for at least 12 months. Your vocational experience does not have to be in oncology, but that would be a plus for those hoping to enter this field. Nursing experience must fall within three years of applying for certification in oncology.

3. Oncology Experience

Applicants for certification as a base level oncology nurse requires at least 1,000 hours of clinical oncology experience. In other words, you are required to work in this field for some time before sitting for the exam. Oncology experience must fall within two and a half years of applying for certification.

4. Oncology Education

Sitting for the certification exams requires you to take 10 contact hours of continuing nursing education in oncology or to take an academic elective in oncology nursing. Your continuing education must be complete within three years prior to applying.

4. Pass the Exam

The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation administers the exams for certification in this specialized field. The Oncology Certified Nurse exam consists of 165 multiple-choice questions on both standard nursing care and specialized service. It will cover 11 major nursing subjects.

5. Specializations within Oncology

Once you pass the Oncology Certified Nurse exam, you are able to work in the field, but ONCC offers six different certification levels for those that want to specialize further.

  • Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse, CPHON – Requires 1,000 hours of pediatric or hematology nursing practice, plus ten contact hours in either hematology or oncology. Five of the 10 contact hours may be continuing education credits in hematology or oncology
  • Certified Breast Care Nurse, CBCN – Requires 1,000 hours of breast care nursing practice, plus 10 contact hours in breast care nursing. Five of the ten contact hours may be continuing education credits in breast care.
  • Blood and Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse, BMTCN – Requires 1,000 hours of BMT care nursing practice, plus 10 contact hours in blood and marrow stem cell transplantation. Five of the 10 contact hours can include continuing medical education in blood and marrow stem cell transplantation nursing.

The Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner, AOCNP and Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist, AOCNS certifications require graduate degrees and more advanced clinical training in oncology.

Oncology is a rewarding field for any nurse looking for better opportunities and a chance to work with patients that need the highest level of care.