Oncology Nursing: The Vital Work of Treating Breast Cancer Patients

NursingNovember 03, 2022

Every year, more women are diagnosed with breast cancer than any other type of cancer except for skin cancer. Breast cancer accounts for about 1 out of every 3 new cancer diagnoses, and New York, the rate of breast cancer is higher than the national average. It’s not just a women’s issue—men get breast cancer, too, though at a much lower rate. 

Oncology might sound like a depressing field to work in, but the good news is the survival rate for women with breast cancer has increased dramatically due to good early detection. The rate of women dying from this kind of cancer has dropped 42% since 1989. But working in oncology still takes strength, resilience, and knowledge. Our nursing programs at St. Paul’s School of Nursing puts you on the path to a nursing career, and from there you can specialize in oncology if it seems like a good fit for you.  

When you work in oncology, you’re responsible for things like conducting health histories, helping the patient and her family understand the disease, coordinating and documenting care, and handling direct patient care. Direct care might include administering chemotherapy, taking labs, and administering other medications. Part of your job might include working with case managers and social workers to make sure the family has support and professional help as needed as they manage cancer at home. 

As an oncology nurse, you have the opportunity to get to know your patients well and develop relationships over time. That’s because people typically come in for treatment over a series of months or even years. It’s very different from working with patients in, for example, the emergency room where you only see a patient for a short amount of time. For some nurses, the longer-term care is a positive aspect of working in oncology. 

Those who choose this field often discover it to be deeply rewarding. Partnering with a patient on their care journey means celebrating their progress throughout their treatment or comforting them if cancer returns. It could mean cheering a clean scan and a cancer-free diagnosis, or it could mean holding their hand during a devastating turn. The field has highs and lows. But oncology nurses play a key role in their patients’ experiences, and patients will remember you. You might become that special person in their life, and they, in turn, might be an inspiration to you. If helping someone through the joy of remission or finding respite with a terminal diagnosis sounds like your kind of work, oncology might be for you.  

Specializing in oncology means you could work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, oncologists’ offices, intensive care units, outpatient chemotherapy and radiation centers, and inpatient units. 

As you might expect, oncology nurses need specialized training. You may want to complete a certification in oncology nursing, which includes sitting for the Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN®) exam. You can apply for the certification after you’ve completed the following: 

  1. 2 years of RN experience within the last four years.
  2. 2,000 or more hours of pediatric hematology oncology nursing in the last four years.
  3. 10 contact hours of continuing education in oncology or academic elective in oncology nursing.

These steps to a career in oncology may sound daunting, but breaking them down is manageable with help. If you’re interested in exploring nursing as a career, St. Paul’s School of Nursing is ready to answer your questions. For more information, click here or call us today at (855) 822-3018 to speak to one of our career counselors.