If you're interested in pursuing a career as an oncology nurse practitioner (oncology NP), read on as we explore their diverse responsibilities, including ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, prescribing appropriate treatments, conducting comprehensive assessments, coordinating care, and advocating for patients. We also discuss their salary expectations and the steps to becoming one.
Oncology NP Job Description
An oncology NP is a specialized advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who provides comprehensive care to cancer patients, from diagnosing to assessing to treating, in collaboration with physicians, RNs, and other healthcare members.
Oncology NPs may order various medications, including chemotherapy, based on the patient's symptoms and diagnosis. They will monitor a patient's cancer treatment plan, ensuring the patient tolerates the treatment well without experiencing significant side effects. In certain situations, they may also provide consults and referrals as needed, such as to palliative care or hospice.
An oncology NP can work in a variety of settings, including both inpatient and outpatient areas. In the inpatient setting, the oncology NP may work on a designated oncology unit or care for patients diagnosed with cancer/receiving chemo in any other department, including medical-surgical, step-down, or intensive care unit (ICU).
An oncology NP in an outpatient setting may work in a clinic, infusion center, or cancer treatment center. They may also work in hospice or palliative care and even deliver home healthcare to specific patients.
The schedule of an oncology NP will vary based on where they work. Schedules might involve 40 hours a week with a set schedule or rotating shifts.
There are a variety of areas an oncology NP can practice, including:
- Bone marrow transplantation
- Breast oncology
- Genetic counseling
- Gynecologic oncology
- Radiation oncology
- Surgical oncology
There are several benefits of becoming an oncology NP, including developing deep relationships with your patients and their families while being a part of a team who can design and provide life-saving treatments to cancer patients can lead to many joyous celebrations when goals are met, the positive news is received, and remission is achieved. Another benefit is that an oncology NP has more autonomy than an RN and a greater earning potential.
Oncology NP Responsibilities
The responsibilities of an oncology NP include:
- Ordering, interpreting, and recording results of clinical tests and reporting results to physicians and other primary health care providers
- Prescribing medications and making recommendations for other therapeutic forms of treatment.
- Conducting screenings for all types of cancers
- Educating patients about cancer prevention and early detection
- Administering cancer treatments
- Conducting comprehensive or episodic health history and physical assessments
- Educating patients and families on treatment plans and prevention strategies
- Participating in medical oncology-specific clinical quality and research projects
- Manage cancer-related symptoms and treatment side effects
- Advocate for patients, ensuring they receive timely and appropriate care
The responsibilities of an oncology NP may vary based on the setting and scope of practice as defined by state regulations and individual practice agreements.
Oncology NP Salary
Oncology NPs can be either salary-based or earn an hourly rate. This will vary based on the place of employment. Those paid hourly can earn overtime pay, whereas salary employees would need to discuss that with the hiring committee.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for NPs in 2021 was $123,780 per year, with salaries ranging from $79,870 to $200,540. Unfortunately, the BLS does not differentiate between different types of NPs.
The BLS reports that in May 2021, the highest-paying states for NPs were:
- California - $151,830
- New Jersey - $137,010
- New York - $133,940
- Washington - $130,840
- Massachusetts - $129,540
How to Become an Oncology NP
Becoming an oncology NP requires extensive nursing education. First, you must graduate from an accredited nursing program to obtain your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. This can be achieved by getting your associate's degree in nursing (ADN) and pursuing an RN-to-BSN degree, or starting directly in a BSN program.
After obtaining a BSN degree, you must apply and pass the NCLEX-RN exam to qualify for an RN license. You must then apply for licensure through your state board of nursing. Although experience is not needed to apply for NP programs, it is recommended to practice as an RN. This practice will help to build confidence and knowledge in the specialized area of oncology.
After obtaining an RN license, you can apply to an accredited NP Program. But before applying, it is important to review the requirements for enrollment/acceptance into your specific program.
After graduating from an accredited NP Program and passing the certification exam, you can apply for state licensure as an NP. To become an oncology NP, you can take a couple of paths. You can graduate with a general specialty, such as Family Practice, Acute Care, Pediatrics, or Adult-Gerontology. If you have a general specialty, most oncology NP positions require completion of the Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP) exam offered by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation. The second path to becoming an oncology NP is to find an accredited program that provides an oncology NP specialty as part of the program.
It is important to note that you must maintain good status with your RN license to receive your NP license. You will carry both licenses for the remainder of your nursing career. You may also consider obtaining your Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). A DNP may open the door to more opportunities or even higher pay. A DNP can still deliver direct patient care but may also work in various leadership roles or even teach for a University.
Oncology NPs have the essential job of caring for those cancer patients and their families. If you're interested in pursuing further education and working in a high-demand and high-reward field, consider a career as an oncology NP.