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Should You Start a Career as an Oncology Nurse?

Written by: Alex Brown
Published on: Nov 8, 2022

Oncology Nurse-1

A career in oncology can be an immensely gratifying role but isn’t the right fit for everyone. While rewarding, the job can also be very taxing physically, mentally, and emotionally at times. So how can you know whether a career working with cancer patients is right for you?

Here are some insights about working in oncology, including the three top benefits and the three characteristics you need to be successful.

Benefits of Being an Oncology Nurse:

Developing Deep Patient Relationships
Working in many other nursing specialties means helping new patients every day that you may never see again. However, many oncology nurses choose their specialty partly because of the deep patient relationships that can develop. You often spend time with the same people day in and day out; getting to know them, their backgrounds, and their families. 

Helping Patients Endure the Emotional Trauma of Cancer
While working with your patients, you may be able to help shift their perspective on life and death to a more positive one. Oncology nurses often arrange special trips or opportunities for their patients to help offset the shock and fear of a cancer diagnosis. Spreading positivity among patients struggling with a depressing situation can make a big impact.

Working Regular Hours
You can often accomplish your duties and responsibilities as an oncology nurse during regular office hours. You will likely not have the overnights, weekends, and holidays schedule of many nursing specialties. If you want a job in nursing without unusual schedules, oncology could be a great fit.

Characteristics of Great Oncology Nurses:

With a role as challenging as oncology nursing, it’s critical to have certain characteristics for the job. Some of the most important personality traits and skills nurse managers and recruiters hiring look for are:

Great Interpersonal Skills. Everybody handles a disease as serious as cancer in their own way. Some patients will be afraid and sad, while others may react with anger and frustration. As an oncology nurse, you’ll see a range of emotions that run the gamut. Your interpersonal skills will be crucial to show compassion and care for patients who might not know how to manage their feelings around cancer.

In addition to showing compassion, you must be comfortable handling grief, loss, and end-of-life issues that are a part of cancer care. You will play a key role in the emotional well-being of your patients as both a sounding board and an informal advisor. You should know when to listen to your patients and their families and when to console or offer advice.

Oncology Nurse-2

Strong Resiliency and Self-Care. With a field as mentally and emotionally demanding as oncology, your own self-care skills and resiliency are crucial to performing well for your patients. Burnout is a big danger in oncology nursing, which can seriously affect your personal and professional well-being. You need to recognize when to take time for yourself and have strong habits in place to address the challenging environment

Detail-Oriented and Precise. Your typical day as an oncology nurse will include monitoring your patient’s health markers, communicating with them, and administrating chemotherapy, medications, and other therapies. These activities require a strong attention to detail: even a small lapse in medication timing, incorrect dosage, or missing information could have a devastating impact on the patient. Often, oncology nurses are the first to notice small changes in patient charts and act as the first line of defense if something is amiss.

Is Oncology Nursing Right for You?
Working as an oncology nurse means being at the front lines of one of America's leading causes of death. While it is challenging, it can be extremely gratifying when you help a patient beat the disease. If you like getting to know your patients better, have a desire to improve their overall quality of life, and want to work routine hours, oncology nursing might be the perfect career for you.

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