If you’re looking for a meaningful nursing career specialty and love kids, the work that pediatric hematology/oncology nurses do is life changing for nurses and patients alike.

September 8 honors nurses in this specialty with Pediatric Hematology/ Oncology Nurses Day. This special day was first celebrated in 2010 when the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses (APHON) initiated it and it falls during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Pediatric hematology/oncology nurses work with the youngest patients and their families as they navigate through the difficult diagnosis of cancer or a blood disorder. From caring for the smallest children to adolescents and young adults, these nurses use their expert knowledge of evidence-based practice in the latest treatment and care of these diseases to help patients. Using equipment and treatments that are state-of-the-art, pediatric hematology/oncology nurses must stay current in the rapid developments in the field so they are able to provide the best nursing care possible.

As with other nursing specialties, pediatric hematology/oncology nursing requires nurses to have a nuanced approach to caring for patients who don’t always understand the scope of their sometimes painful treatments or who have to cope with symptoms or aftereffects of medications. But they also must work carefully with the families and loved ones of their young patients who also might be learning about cancer care or hematology conditions for the first time. There’s a lot of information to understand and process and so hematology/oncology nurses are excellent educators to help everyone involved have the information they need.

As nurses gain more hands-on experience in the field, they learn how to care for children, how to help them through any treatments, and how to bring some normalcy into their lives as is possible. A hematology/oncology nurse works with a compassionate family-centered approach to include all the loved ones who are with their patients and caring for them at home or staying with them in a hospital or facility.

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Despite all the progress in cancer care and treatment, nurses know they will lose some patients. They need to have the support available to help with any loss, and many nurses say the work itself helps. Because they work with children, the boundless spirit of their patients keeps them going. Even children going through multiple hospitalizations want some of the fun of childhood and so they bring continual joy to their care giving team.

Nurses who are considering this specialty should first spend some time shadowing a pediatric hematology/oncology nurse and take some time to be on a unit where these nurses work. By spending time with nurses doing this work in real time, you’ll be able to see what a typical day is like. Pediatric hematology/oncology nurses should have a minimum of an associate’s degree, but a BSN is preferable because of the additional knowledge, critical thinking skills, and internship or externship opportunities available. And while spending time on a pediatric hematology/oncology unit is necessary, nurses may also want to work on a general pediatric unit with a pediatric nurse as well, to understand the differences in caring for a younger population.

And if you have pediatric hematology/oncology nurses in your life, today’s a great day to thank them for all they do for the lives of the young patients they work with.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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