Is there any experience required to get an entry level position on an oncology unit as an RN?
Not usually, no. I know people who have been hired onto oncology right out of school. There are additional education requirements, however.
What are some important personal characteristics for success in this field?
As in most areas of nursing, lots of patience. You really get to know people in oncology because they come back often. On that same note, you'd also better be resilient. You will lose patients who you have known for years, whose families are like friends. There is a great deal of joy and death mixed in with oncology.
What additional education/experiences do you recommend?
Shadowing isn't a bad idea. Most hospitals have either a chemo course that they provide for you themselves or they use the ONS chemo course so that you're certified to hang chemotherapy.
What is the most basic level of education/license/credentials/certifications required for this field?
We had some LPNs on our floor, but they were not able to be chemo-certified. I don't know if this is the same across the board (the military has some extra rules and regs that preclude LPNs from doing quite a bit). I would bet that you need an ASN or higher, but don't quote me.
What is the average?
If you're referring to education level, most of the RNs on my unit were BSN-prepared.
What is continued education like for oncology nurses?
There is a lot of focus on onc-specific topics, like pain control, how to help patients cope with loss and self-image issues, how to recognize budding psych problems, and some of the physiological processes that change during/after treatment.
Is there a local and/or national professional organization that you or your colleagues are members of, specific to oncology?
Oncology Nurses Society (ONS) is a great resource. I am not a member, but they have some great books for sale.
What types of activities/events/involvement do you experience through membership?
I know there are discounts available and events such as conferences that you might be able to attend.
What are some of the current issues/trends/debated topics in oncology right now?
We always had a lot of discussion/debate about allogenic stem cell transplants and the problem of graft vs. host disease...was it worth it? How long was a person's life prolonged?
Honestly, cancer is such a trendy topic in American society anymore, it's kind of strange. Cancer societies and the like have cultures all their own. I tried to stay out of that piece of it.
What are some pros and cons of choosing to work in oncology long-term?
Burnout is tough. However, the reward of knowing you're doing something that really matters is very inspiring.
What is something that most nurses don't find out until after they've worked in oncology for a while?
You won't necessarily cry when patients die, but it will affect you one way or another.
Keep yourself healthy. It will delay burnout.
Do things you like and pay attention to those you love. You don't know how much longer they or you will be around.
With many years of oncology experience, what can you do other than floor nursing/home care?
There are always career shift options in nursing. I became interested in critical care because of my oncology experience (the unit I was on had high acuity patients, who fascinated me). But there will (of course) be additional education required should you decide to switch, no matter how long you've been a nurse.
What is your biggest piece of advice for someone considering a position as an oncology nurse?
Shadow someone to see what you think first.
If you get in and realize you don't want to do onc anymore, get out. You can always go back.