Oncology Nursing: An Innovative and Changing Field

Oncology Nursing: An Innovative and Changing Field

Oncology nurses help patients face the uncertain territory that a cancer diagnosis brings and navigate a path through treatment.

May is Oncology Nursing Month and the time is set aside to celebrate the work oncology nurses do with patients, the advocacy they bring to their specialty, and the continual professional development they engage in.

Oncology nurses are committed to the best patient care and that means they need to stay engaged in the latest research and evidence-based practices that are always emerging. Cancer care is highly innovative as new therapies, cutting-edge drugs, and novel understandings of cancer progression are discovered. Nurses who decide to specialize in oncology nursing will match their drive for continual learning with the deep empathy for what their patients and families are coping with.

If you’re interested in becoming an oncology nurse, talking with oncology nurses is helpful to begin your research. The demand for nurses who specialize in cancer care is expected to increase over the next year as life expectancy is extended, the population ages, and more people are surviving cancer with increasingly successful targeted treatment.

The first steps are to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree and take the NCLEX exam to become a registered nurse. As with other nursing paths, you’ll want to gain general nursing experience where you’re likely to interact with cancer patients. Because people are surviving longer with cancer and treatments are keeping cancer either in remission or at a level where people manage the disease for years, you’re probably going to encounter people living with cancer in just about any unit you work in. You’ll begin to understand the special health needs they have, and the roadblocks they may encounter. For instance, they may have medication contradictions for other existing health conditions, or they may have to consider different approaches to new treatments they need. And they may have emotional and psychological needs to consider as you are working with them.

Cancer care, and living with cancer, is incredibly complex and touches virtually every other aspect of a patient’s life—from nutritional needs to sleep to navigating the world during a pandemic. As you begin to focus your career on oncology nursing, your experience with how all these different factors impact your patient will help you determine the best way to help and guide them while offering excellent patient care.

Connect with other oncology nurses to hear about the hot topics in the field. Organizations like the Oncology Nursing Society, the International Society for Nurses in Cancer Care, and the Oncology Nursing Foundation offer many resources for you to learn more about this career. Read up on some journals focused on oncology such as The Oncology Nurse or the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing.

Certification through an organization like the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation is essential for oncology nurses because it helps you stay on top of the innovative treatments as they are implemented. Additional certifications are available as you move deeper into a specialty area of oncology nursing. The additional knowledge you’ll gain through certification will only help you provide better, more informed patient care, and your efforts will signal your commitment to being the best nurse you can be.

This field is growing and dynamic. Oncology nurses are needed in many healthcare settings, and they develop relationships with patients over the course of treatment and continued care. This nursing path is flexible, innovative, and rewarding.

Oncology Nurses Care for the Whole Patient

Oncology Nurses Care for the Whole Patient

Oncology Nurses Month is honored throughout the month of May and celebrates the broad options of this nursing path.

Nurses who pursue this career specialty and who work with patients who have cancer are open to many career opportunities. They are often on the cutting edge of technology and working with new treatments that change evidence-based practice with each successful development.

“With over 34,000 clinical trials occurring to test new drugs, combination therapies, and supportive strategies for patients, novel cancer therapies and care strategies are constantly emerging and being integrated into practice which provides exciting new treatment options for cancer patients,” says Erin Dickman, Oncology Clinical Specialist with the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS).

“An oncology nurse can be in the role of a staff nurse, nurse practitioner, clinical trials nurse, clinical nurse specialist, or administrator just to name a few,” she says. Because of this, oncology nurses can work in various healthcare settings and treat patients of all ages. And oncology nurses are constantly learning from their patients, their professional development, and each other. Oncology nurses should keep asking questions and working through the evidence-based practice process to ensure that all practices are evidence-based to ensure the best outcomes for your patients, she says.

Oncology nurses know that each patient will respond differently to cancer therapies, so they need to have the critical thinking, clinical experience, and expertise to respond to each patient’s individual needs. “They administer drugs within a treatment plan and the supportive medications that help to prevent and manage side effects,” Dickman says, “and they create individualized care plans for each patient that identify needs and risks of the patient, come up with a plan of interventions to achieve positive health care outcomes.”

Nurses in this field are an integral part of the care team and will work and communicate with various providers, family members, caregivers, and support services. As a result of working so closely with patients, nurses, says Dickman, are advocates for them and may be the driving force in getting access to additional care or specialty consults.

The COVID-19 crisis presents challenges for oncology nurses. “Nurses have had to flex, innovate, and adapt in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dickman. “Treatment protocols have been offered in different locations and some appointments are even switching to telehealth visits. Oncology nurses have especially been challenged in helping patients differentiate between COVID-19 symptoms and those associated with the disease process and treatment through additional remote monitoring and screening they have been providing to their patients.” They are also determining how treatment plans will need to change to protect patients’ health and are navigating the loss of support systems during visitor restrictions. “The oncology nurse has stepped up to be the hand holder and person to reassure the patient of their strength,” says Dickman.

Even as they are using their technical nursing skills, oncology nurses are also finely tuned to how their patients are responding to their condition and their treatment. “Sometimes overlooked, is the role that nurses play on the psychosocial and emotional well-being of patients and the role nurses play as advocates for their patients,” says Dickman. And nurses must trust their intuition. “When you think something may be wrong with your patient and they may require some intervention — either physically or psychosocially, they usually do,” she says.

If oncology nursing sounds like a career path you’d like to pursue, Dickman recommends talking with oncology nurses and even finding a mentor who can help you find the best subspecialty for your interests and skills. She also suggests talking with current and former cancer patients to find out about how nurses impacted their care.

Nursing students can choose to pursue many avenues to boost their knowledge of the field. “Other options are to find a shadowing opportunity, volunteer or become a nursing assistant on an oncology unit, seek out internships or externships, or build your knowledge base in oncology by taking select oncology focused classes,” she says. “There is also free student membership to ONS so you can stay up to date with what is happening in cancer care.”

A cancer diagnosis not only affects the patient’s physical and emotional health, but it also transforms a family and is a life-defining moment. “There are many ups and downs to cancer treatment, but having the opportunity to walk with patients throughout the journey is a gift,” says Dickman. “There is no greater reward than knowing you have helped a patient and family through a very difficult time, shared their joy, and helped them cope with sadness.”

Oncology Nurses Offer Compassionate Care

Oncology Nurses Offer Compassionate Care

No one ever wants to hear a diagnosis of cancer, but when it happens, oncology nurses are the rock-solid support many patients turn to. As the latest numbers show cancer continues to be a steadily rising health concern, oncology nurses will continue to play an essential role to patients and families.

May is Oncology Nurses Month and honors all the ways oncology nurses help their patients navigate a road they never expected to travel. Oncology nurses have duties that help patients understand a diagnosis, become educated about options and treatment, and adjust to a terminal prognosis or one that includes living a life after a cancer diagnosis and as a survivor.

The National Cancer Institute states “In 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 609,640 people will die from the disease.” However, as cancer treatments become more effective, oncology nurses are also caring for the increasing number of cancer survivors.

According to the Oncology Nursing Society, this year’s theme “The Art of Caring, The Science of Care,” highlights both the reassuring guidance and compassion nurses show as well as the intricacies of cancer treatment.

Patients and their families often need time to absorb a diagnosis of cancer, and oncology nurses are there to help them figure out what to do next. As treatment advances, they are there to offer support, give exceptional care, and prepare patients for any treatment side effects. If a patient’s diagnosis is terminal, they are able to help them adjust and live life comfortably. Oncology nurses help patients understand the medical treatment they need and the various options they might have available.

But through all the medical decisions, these nurses also offer compassionate and knowledgeable care. With the rapid-fire developments in cancer treatment, oncology nurses must stay up-to-date on the cutting edge treatments that might become available to their patients or in advising patients on how to reduce cancer risks. They are a shoulder to lean on and a valuable resource for families. They are able to help patients manage pain and discomfort, offer advice for dealing with unpleasant side effects, and report any adverse side effects of treatments.

Oncology nurses also are on the front lines, hearing patients concerns and helping to guide them through insurance issues. They ask if patients can afford the treatment and what alternatives they may have. But they are also able to hear the fear and listen to the concerns of patients and their loved ones.

Because oncology nurses are working so closely with patients, they see exactly how cancer can have a devastating impact on lives and families. From this viewpoint, they are excellent advocates for cancer policies in government, in insurance, and in research. Oncology nurses have a valuable and respected voice to help create changes in policies that impact cancer patients.

This month as oncology nurses reflect on the vast scientific knowledge they possess to the deep wells of compassion and empathy they use to support their patients, they can be reinvigorated by the reasons they go into the field. Patients and families depend on their steadfast care and the reward for this field are great.