What Does an Oncology Nurse Do?

The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) offers several certification options, such as certified oncology nurse (OCN) and certified advanced oncology nurse (AOCN). Nurses who work with patients undergoing radiation therapy are known as radiation oncology nurses. These nurses can help prepare cancer patients for their treatments, educate patients about the disease process and treatment plan, or provide emotional support during the treatment process. Radiation oncology nurses work closely with radiation therapists to optimize the benefits of each treatment session. Unfortunate statistics have created a high demand for cancer nurses, who are essential in helping cancer patients cope with their illness and treatment.

While this may vary by employer, nurses in outpatient clinics generally work 8-hour or 9-hour shifts, while those working on oncology floors often work 12-hour shifts with fewer “set” days to balance it out. The nurse often has a better chance than any other member of the healthcare team to develop the relationship necessary for effective educational efforts with patients and their families. The ONS developed a position paper on cancer pain that outlined the scope of practice for nurses with different levels of experience. New cancer treatments have revolutionized the landscape of cancer care and the role of nursing in supporting patients receiving multimodal treatment regimens. An oncology nurse provides supportive, cancer-related nursing care to patients and their families after diagnosis and throughout the course of treatment.

Oncology nurses tend to work in a variety of settings, including intensive care hospitals, outpatient and specialty cancer centers, infusion or chemotherapy clinics, nursing homes, outpatient surgery centers, palliative care centers, and long-term care centers for elderly patients with cancer. Because cancer patients generally spend more time in the hospital and nurses spend most of their time with patients, the relationships you build with them will be special. Oncology nurses can work in a few different settings, with the primary categories being oncology floors in hospitals or outpatient oncology clinics. Oncology nurses currently work in a variety of roles and settings that were not known 10 years ago, but are now increasingly common. An oncology nurse is expected to know the results and overall implications of all relevant laboratory, pathology, and imaging studies.

A nurse navigator can serve as a liaison between the patient and several departments to coordinate their care and overcome the barriers they face in the health system. Nurses on the oncology floor may be caring for patients who have recently had surgery, who are undergoing chemotherapy, or who are simply very ill. This requires nurses to understand the potential side effects of each antineoplastic agent and self-care activities to reduce their severity. For example, an oncology nurse should be able to help the patient find medications to control their symptoms of nausea, pain, or constipation. Arriola, who works as an infusion nurse, cares for patients who need therapies such as chemotherapy, hydration, electrolyte replacement, Crohn's infusions, hot flashes and daily antibiotics.