Back when cancer was a new concept in medicine, the only known treatment for it was surgery. As a result, the role of the oncology nurse wasnít as clearly defined as it is today. Oncology nurses in the 1950s were limited to caring for patients in the pre and post-op setting.
As cancer treatment progressed, so did the field of oncology nursing. Today, oncology nurses care for patients during every stage of the disease process: from prevention and detection to treatment and convalescence. Oncology nurses are considered experts in their field. They are the ones that deal with cancer, cancer patients and their families on a daily basis. As a result, the oncology nurse has taken on a gamut of roles.
Roles of an Oncology Nurse
The Oncology nurse has a multitude of roles to fulfill. He/she may work as a caregiver, educator, nurse manager, consultant, researcher and counselor. Some nurses choose to focus on one role while others take on everything.
The primary role of an oncology nurse is that of a nurse caregiver. He/she will see to the care of the patient during clinical visits, hospitalization and discharge and rehabilitation. Depending on the area of exposure may also function as an OR Nurse assisting in oncology cases. The nurse may also be the one to administer chemotherapy or assist the patient in getting radiation treatment. Ambulatory Care Oncology nurses may specialize in home and clinical care for cancer patients.
The oncology nurse may also be called on as an educator. This is especially true for Advance Practice Nurses who have chosen to specialize in the oncology field. As an educator, the nurse may have to educate the patient on self care and lifestyle changes. They may also be the ones to assist the patientís family and direct caregivers on how to best care for the patient. Advance Practice Oncology nurses may also educate other nursing and non-nursing hospital staff about basic and advanced oncology.
Oncology nurses may also work as researchers and help promote the field of cancer treatment.
Requirements and Qualifications
Requirements and qualifications to become an oncology nurse will differ from country to country. In the Philippines, a nurse can be considered as an oncology nurse if he/she has gathered enough experience in the field of oncology. To fortify the role, the Filipino nurse can join the Philippine Oncology Nurses Association, Inc. The PONA is a sub-set of the Philippine Nurses Association. Those interested in the PONA may inquire in their local PNA office.
In other countries, nurses may have to take special certification courses before they are considered as oncology nurses. In the United States for example, nurses can further their status as oncology nurses by becoming a Certified Oncology nurse.
Some countries like the United States have the following sub-specialties where an oncology nurse can practice. These sub-specialties are: Chemotherapy, Radiation, Breast Oncology, Prevention and Detection, Obstetrics Oncology, palliative Care, Bone Marrow transplantation and a few more.
Those who want to become Advanced Practice Nurses in the Oncology Nursing field must first attain a masterís degree or PhD in Nursing.
There are a lot of work opportunities for nurses here and abroad. Locally, the nurse can work in specialized oncology wards. Assignment to special wards may take some luck Ė especially in big institutions. But those who really want to become oncology nurses can voice out their intentions to HR and Nursing supervisors. After all, a nurse works better when he/she is in a desired environment.
There are also a lot of great opportunities for oncology nurses abroad. Oncology Nurses can find employment in acute care (e.g. hospitals and ambulatory units) or long term care (care homes, rehab centers, etc.) facilities.