Jump to content

Oncology Nursing Vent


Hi everyone!

So starting off, I am a new grad (well, not so new anymore when I think about the fact that I graduated pretty much a year ago) and I started working on an med onc unit 4 months ago. Now, this is acutally not a vent about my job. I really am enjoying my job, love my coworkers, and was actually looking for something med surg/onc related so this was an amazing opportunity, especially in this job environment.

The problem lies with everyone else. When I was looking for a job, I contacted pretty much everyone I knew. My parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, friends of friends contacted everyone they knew. So everyone knows that I was looking for a job. So now, I will bump into alot of those people now and will proudly tell them that I actually managed to find one!

The conversation will go something like this

Me: I got a job!

Them: Wow, congratulations, what sort of nursing?

Me (proudly): Oh, I am on an oncology floor

Them: Oh. (expression change) Thats cancer, right? Wow, that must be tough.

So now I am left with 2 responses. The first one, the honest one is to say "oh, I actually really enjoy it." The problem with that is that it seems that I "enjoy" watching people suffer, and alot of people are shocked that I enjoy it. Lets get this straight. I do not enjoy watching people suffer! But i am inspired by people, inspired by my patients, I love learning and this field is chock full of learning experiences. I love that I have a bunch of walkie/talkie patients that sometimes are alert enough to hold a conversation. I love lots of things about my job.

The second option is to say "yeah, its tough" which is true to an extent, because some days it IS tough. But then I feel like I am lying and it sounds like I hate it. Which is not true.

Inexpicably, the next question alot of them ask is "do you work with children?" and since I work on an adult floor, the answer is no. Then they will say "so its not that bad then I guess!"

Now, children with cancer is a terrible thing. It is horrible to watch children have to go through chemo, and surgery, and the chance that they might die. Its horrible to see the parents struggle with this. But to me, it is just as rough to watch a 40 year old single mom with 3 children wondering who will take care of her children when she is gone, or watching the devoted husband of an adorable 75 year old woman struggle with a DNR order. We also get people in their young 20s or even late teens, depending on what cancer they have. So why is that better or easier than ped onc??

So usually I just smile and nod. I guess I cant really educate the entire world about what I do or how I feel. I just wanted to vent it out and see if anyone else has had this experience. How do you respond?


Has 2 years experience.

You don't have to only say one thing or the other, because like you said, your job is both a tough one and one you enjoy!

Your response could be something along the lines of yes, it's a hard job and it's hard to watch people going through that, but you are glad to be a part of a team that's helping those people, and learning about the treatments is very interesting.

And I agree with you about how heart-wrenching it is to see someone struggling with losing their husband or wife, or worrying about who will take care of their family. Those instances have been more likely to bring tears to my eyes than anything else!

I'm about to graduate, so I haven't spent any time as a real nurse yet (I just accepted a job offer in a PCU-yay!), but I've learned a lot and it's changed how I see people. It's strange to see how fragile humans are, but inspiring to see how resilient they can be at the same time. I'm sure you experience a lot of that with oncology.

Good luck!


Has 4 years experience.

I have worked on a surgical/trauma floor for the past three years and just had the opportunity to transfer to the oncology floor. I am so excited! I too enjoy the pt population an the feeling that I have actually helped someone ... However everyone I tell has the same reaction you described!

Your post is an incredibly accurate representation of my own feelings about oncology as well as the reactions I got to it.

I so loved my patients and (vast majority) of coworkers, but like you said, tell someone you like oncology out of all fields and people seem to think you like watching other people suffer. When my fiance and I first started dating, I had to explain to him that I didn't like watching people suffer, but like trauma nursing or any other kind of nursing for that matter, people are going to get sick, and I enjoy being able to help them feel better.

And the pediatric question--that irked me, too! I also had incredible difficulty watching people who were mothers, fathers, spouses, grandparents--SO connected to this world in a nurturing kind of way--dying much too young of an incurable disease. Same with the older folks, many of them left alone to live out their last days. Disease is sad, period, and age doesn't matter.

There are days I miss oncology like nothing else. I'm so happy you're out there being that awesome nurse for your patients, because patients need that! Keep it up and don't let the naysayers get you down!

As someone who works in peds heme onc I can completely relate to the reaction you get from other people. When I got my job it was at my dream childrens hospital in a unit that I was excited about. I was shocked how many people just went on and on about how horrible it must be for me!! On the other hand I have some people who gush and say things like " bless you for doing what you do and thats just so great that you cure the sick kids!". This reaction is also awkward for me as I have no idea what to say and can hardly take credit for "curing" them. In many ways this is just my job and although I care for my patients deeply in the end it is my job and I don't deserve or want credit or attention for it. I have taken just to say that I work at XXXXX hospital and leaving out my specialty. If they ask I will tell them "heme/onc" and sometimes they don't know what I mean by that. If they start talking about how sad it is I try to say something like "it's sad some days but most days I really enjoy it" and change the subject. Hopefully with time I will figure out how to deal with this situation with more tact.


Specializes in Oncology, Med-Surg. Has 22 years experience.

Yeah, I used to get the same kind of reaction you describe too. I'd say that I was there to alleviate suffering, not watch it! I'd also remind them that some people were cured or had long remissions. Sometimes I'd say "well someone's gotta do it!". One time I was flying back on a plane from seeing my brother and the plane was stuck on the runway, I got into a conversation with the person next to me. I kinda cringed when he asked me what I did for a living. I told him. He grabbed my hand and kissed it and told me he was in the hospital for months undergoing chemo and BMT for hairy cell leukemia. He told me he didn't think he would've made it through without all the wonderful, caring, knowledgable nurses who cared for him.

I've had other experiences like this with family members who told me how their experience was much better because of the job we nurses do. Not everybody thinks we're death-loving freaks!

Thanks everyone...glad to know I'm not the only one that feels this way!!


Specializes in BMT, Oncology, LTC/SNF. Has 3 years experience.

As someone who desperately wants to work as a Ped Onc Nurse - it's literally my dream. Oncology and children have been my passion since my sister's BFF died from a rare cancer - I understand how you feel in so many ways. I was disheartened when I did not get my focused practicum in oncology.

I hate telling people I want to go into Peds Oncology because they just give me the look that says "You won't handle it" and then they say "That's going to be tough." I mean, it's like they have already written me off about my DREAMS. I usually just say "pediatrics" to avoid the conversation all together. My parents want me to be an ICU nurse because my mom is one. My dad doesn't think I'll even get into pediatrics. It's frustrating. They are happy I'm a nurse, but my dreams? Nope.

When I do tell people I desire Peds Onc, and I get that look, I just say "Nursing is challenging, but very rewarding. I know what I want, but thank you for your concern." The people who tell me I can't do it or that it'll be tough - they don't need to tell me that. I - you - WE - as a human race KNOW that fact. Reality is reality. But that doesn't make the job any less desirable. That makes it more AMAZING. Oncology itself is fantastic. Oh, there will be and are bad days around the world - but every unit, every specialty, every NURSE has a bad day. It's up to us, up to everyone as an individual, to decide if they want to bring a smile to the world.

Not to mention, sometimes I think the most exciting place to be will be once I am on a pediatric oncology unit. Kids have a childlike faith and play adults have forgotten. It's not sad.

Handing you loads of kudos, bonnielilgirl :)


Specializes in Oncology; medical specialty website.

Why let what other people think/say affect how you feel about your job? If you're proud of what you do, hold your head up and ignore the negativity. Try educating them about the positive aspects of your job.

I dont let it affect me, actually. I do love my job, nothing anyone says will change that. I just hate the conversations I have to have with people who havent got a clue...

carolinapooh, BSN, RN

Has 10 years experience.

I've been in oncology for almost seven years now, and I've loved every minute of it. And yes, it's tough - and when people tell me that with that look, my answer is usually, "Yep, it's tough - it's the toughest thing I've ever done, and it's the most rewarding thing I've ever done, and I love it." I love the looks I get with, "REALLY???" I just let them ponder it for themselves. :)

Most people 'don't have a clue' :) when it comes to nursing in general. (And I've learned that most people couldn't even begin to do what I do in the course of a shift.) Also remember that most people aren't aware that 'cancer' isn't the 'cancer' they remember from twenty years ago - most people don't realize how much cancer care is outpatient now, or how much cancer care has become, in many cases, chronic disease management as opposed to a death sentence. I'm not downplaying what we do - I work on a bone marrow transplant unit and I've seen a LOT, both good and bad, successful and disastrous. But WE know what's up, don't we, even if Joe Citizen does not.

I get these conversations regularly. The response is usually... " how do you do it?" Or "I can't believe that's what you chose!" My response is that it is bittersweet everyday. I find it an honor to be part of my patients and families lives during such an emotional and vulnerable part of their lives. They are so thankful for everything that we do and offer for them. I learn something new from each and every patient and I love them all. Of course this is a hard thing when we lose them, but I am honored that they allow us to be there for them during his time. This also makes me appreciate every minute of everyday that I have on earth with my husband, family and friends.