If you’re exploring different specialties in the nursing profession, you may be wondering about the kind of training and experience you need in order to become an oncology nurse, and whether or not you need to complete a bachelor of nursing (BSN degree) as part of that training. Oncology nurses work with cancer patients in hospitals, medical offices or other settings. Some special skills, in addition to basic nursing skills, are needed in order to work effectively in oncology.
To work in oncology, you must be a registered nurse (RN). This means that you will need to obtain either a diploma, an associates degree in nursing or a bachelors in nursing, and then take and pass the national licensing exam for registered nurses. Once you have become an RN, you will need to pursue work in oncology care and gain experience in that area before you can become certified as an oncology certified nurse (OCN). You may also need to take extra coursework and do clinical practice that specialized in caring for patients with cancer.
As you can see from the above description, a bachelors degree is not considered absolutely essential to begin nursing in oncology. However, more and more nurses in a variety of nursing specialties or just as generalists, are going on to complete the BSN degree. Some nurses begin with a diploma or associates, gain some nursing experience, and then go on to complete their bachelors, often while continuing to work. In fact, employers find the bachelors degree desirable enough that they will often encourage their nurses to get the degree by offering tuition assistance, and there are now many RN-to-BSN programs which will allow you the flexibility you need to get your degree while continuing to work.
While certification is not absolutely necessary to work in oncology nursing, it is often encouraged and recommended within the profession. The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC), which offers a number of special certifications within the oncology specialty, claims that 88% of nurses who do go on for certification say that it increases their confidence level in their work. While the OCN (Oncology Certified Nurse) is a common certification, there are also other certifications that you can obtain that will allow you to work with specific types of cancer patients, such as children, women or patients who are undergoing blood and bone marrow transplants. Some of the other certifications include Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPH0N), Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN) and Blood and Marrow Transplant Nurse (BMTCN). There are also advanced certifications for those nurses who go on to get graduate level degrees and become advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners.
Although a BSN degree is not an absolute necessity for beginning your journey toward oncology nursing, it is probably a degree you will want to look into completing, especially if you want to move forward in the field. Becoming an oncology nurse is demanding but rewarding work, and more in-depth education, both in your initial degree and in your ongoing education for certification, should serve you well.