During Oncology Nursing Month, oncology nurses and the specialty they work in are honored and highlighted. Oncology nurses work with patients who have dealt with a cancer diagnosis–whether years ago or more recent. No matter when a patient hears they have cancer, the words are startling and set in motion treatment and care plans, family discussions, and life adjustments, while also triggering some powerful emotional responses.

Typically, a nurse cares for the health of a patient with cancer, but also understands that the patient’s diagnosis touches many lives especially that of family and friends. Oncology nurses understand their very special role and help their patients process varied health issues, have hope for the future, and have compassion for the often grueling road of cancer treatment.

While many oncology nurses work in centers and offices devoted to cancer treatment and care, there are also other important and challenging roles they can explore on different career platforms.

An oncology nurse may work with cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy as they monitor and care for patients on treatment days. Nurses in this role will continually assess the patient’s response to the treatment, notice and track changes, answer questions and provide relevant information, and be a calm and strong presence for patients. Nurses may choose to treat different ages of patients–from the youngest infants with cancer to the very oldest patients. Oncology nurses have a special ability to be compassionate and empathetic as they are driven to understand the journey each patient faces and help make that journey easier by providing support. Oncology nurses may also find they are drawn to helping cancer patients with hospice care to make them as comfortable as they can.

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A clinical research nurse works within a research team to advance cancer treatment, prevention, and eradication. Clinical research nurses may take a variety of roles, each of which may touch a different aspect of the research project. Nurses can act as educators, provide clinical care to research participants, and provide nursing leadership for the research facility, among other responsibilities. With so many cancer trials happening, nurses can make a direct and immediate impact in areas that are of particular interest to them or in which they have special expertise.

Oncology nurses who have worked in cancer care and treatment have much-needed expertise to share with nursing students, colleagues, the public, and government officials. Oncology nurses may teach at the undergraduate or graduate levels to inspire the next generation of nurses to work in the field, and they may chair panels and seminars at conferences. They may give talks for younger students in high school who may not know about what oncology nurses do but are interested in a nursing career and want to help people who have cancer. Oncology nurses may help lobby and inform the state and federal government to increase cancer research funding or to influence the direct impact the government can have on helping people and families affected by cancer.

Oncology nurses may advance their careers and nursing specialty by joining professional organizations like the Oncology Nursing Society. They can network with other oncology nurses to exchange information about the latest developments in cancer care, to compare nursing processes, to take advantage of targeted professional development for oncology nurses, and to act as part of a larger body of advocates for the field and the patients they care for. Nurses who join professional organizations can take on leadership roles to guide projects and advocacy and reevaluate standards in the public and private sector.

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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