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Opportunity in Oncology for a Survivor?


I recently discovered that an entry level nursing position has become available in a hospital affiliated oncology center. I want the job. Badly. And I meet all the requirements. But I have an issue, and I need advice.

Let me preface my inquiry with the following: a) I am a relatively 'new' nurse, but I am qualified for the position, b) I went into the field of nursing with the intent of working in oncology, and c) I have not received any sort of professional training regarding the question I am about to ask, and I don't have a clue how to, or if I even should, present myself...

The position available is with MY oncology group. It is a huge practice, but I would be working with physicians and other nurses who treated me in my own cancer battle (5 years ago). I do not know any employer/employee protocol for this type of situation, and before I submit my resume and letter, I really do need sincere, honest advice on any ethics or related issues I might encounter. I really do not know if I even should consider the opportunity. If I remind them I am a survivor, is that a bad thing or a good thing? If I withhold that information and am recognized, is that a bad thing or a good thing?

I really would like to work for this particular center. It is amazing, and the staff inspired me in so many ways.

Advice? Please?

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN, CNS

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU. Has 27 years experience.

Apply....there's nothing wrong or problematic that I see.

what issue concerns you?

Should I mention in my cover letter that I was a patient, should I not? Should I mention in interview, or should I not?

I have no experience or teaching for the best protocol for this particular issue from the employer perspective. I have tossed this about in my head for hours.

If I mention that I feel my personal experience as a cancer patient is a valuable component of my approach to patient care, what is the HR manager likely to see: a) potential for future absence because I had cancer, too personally connected, bad employee investment, or b) a benefit to understanding the emotional and physical status of patients, their concerns, treatments, care, etc.

I feel like I should mention something about having been a patient so that it doesn't seem like I am not being forthcoming (should someone recognize my name). It is definitely going to come out, should I make it to the status of 'employee'. I just want to do everything I can -- in the most professional way -- to get my foot in the door for the interview.

In any normal circumstance, I would not mention my personal health history to my employer. My current employers do not know. But this oncology opening is unique because I was a patient at this treatment center.

I could see my health history work for me, or against me. As I have never been an employer, I don't know which is more likely, or how to begin with the issue.

Edited by monkeyhq
Grammar corrections

Ruby Vee, BSN

Specializes in CCU, SICU, CVSICU, Precepting & Teaching. Has 40 years experience.

Here's something to consider: I worked oncology as a relatively new grad. About a year in, I got cancer. I got treated quickly, did well, didn't miss much work. But about two years later, I encountered two patients who had been diagnosed with the same type of cancer about the same time I was . . . and they were both dying. I had emotional difficulty dealing with the whole issue, and within six weeks had transferred out of my job and into the ICU.

If you've got good emotional support and have considered your possible emotional reaction to dealing with patients with the same type of cancer as you had and aren't doing as well, or had a recurrance or were in the hospital at the same time as you . . . go for it. But if you don't have good support or haven't considered your possible reaction to these things, it's maybe not such a good idea.

Miss Ruby, thank you for the reply and the solid advice.

As a survivor, I know there will be days where it may be very difficult. I still have days, even though I am past my 5 year marker (triple neg BC, BRCA1 del), where I have a good cry. I lost three friends (same type of cancer) in the first three years post treatment. Two were my age, one was 10 years younger, all had school age children. The psychological impact was intense. At the same time, it reaffirmed my own choices*.

I do have an amazing support system in my mother (also a survivor), and my family. I still make it to at least 3 support group meetings a year. It is not always easy, but five years out, I understand that it will never be something I can just tuck away forever. It is always going to be there, and I will always have some tough days.

The opening with the oncology center is not in the infusion therapy room. As the opening is entry level, I would be working in the exam rooms and doing everything except pushing chemo. If I handle well the emotional aspect, there is the option of moving into the infusion room (one year in the exam rooms is required) if I choose. It really is an ideal opportunity, and I am resolved to do well, and be well. I do understand that reality could be different than what I anticipate, but I won't know unless I try, and I really believe oncology is where I will be most helpful as a nurse.

I still don't know how I should approach the application process regarding my status as a survivor and patient at this center?

*my BC was discovered while undergoing an elective double mast due to BRCA1 status; tested for BRCA due to strong family history


Specializes in Oncology; medical specialty website.

I worked for a while after my treatments, but one thing I wasn't prepared for was how I felt dealing with rude patients and family. Many of the patients were very kind and understanding, but some of the new ones were less than kind. I had some problems after the chemo which made me a little slower than usual when running for blankets, drinks, etc. Sometimes I would have to sit down while doing my computer documentation. I actually had some people get impatient with this. Inside, I was thinking, "Can't you see I'm struggling and trying my best?"

I eventually had to stop working because of my health. All in all, I was glad I tried to work, even though it didn't last. I couldn't have aasked for better co-workers. They supported me every step of the way, and continue to do so.

I worked for a while after my treatments, but one thing I wasn't prepared for was how I felt dealing with rude patients and family.

I worked in government accounting (tax collection) prior to nursing. I know all about rude people. After years in public service, I learned a few skills that might transition well to dealing with patient frustration.

Do you have any advice on my original post regarding what I should consider in so far as what information (if any) I should include in my cover letter? Or what to consider when speaking about my history in interview?


Specializes in Oncology; medical specialty website.

If it were me, I would hold off mentioning it. Employers these days can be very leery about any perceived issue. As long as you're healthy, I would focus on the other things that drew you to oncology. If you feel you must say something, keep it brief. Focus on positives.

I'm sorry my first response was not to your liking.

If it were me, I would hold off mentioning it. Employers these days can be very leery about any perceived issue. As long as you're healthy, I would focus on the other things that drew you to oncology. If you feel you must say something, keep it brief. Focus on positives.

I'm sorry my first response was not to your liking.

Oh no! Your response was very, very helpful! I hadn't considered the reactions of patients. I was just stating that working in government exposed me to a lot of irate people (nothing makes people angrier than taxes), and that I have enough scars to deflect the abuse, lol. I am very grateful for your reply. Patient angst was truly not an issue that had even crossed my mind. I am a relatively new nurse, so please forgive my ignorance.

And thank you for the solid advice and response regarding not laying everything out there at the beginning. I can certainly say something about having a 'unique understanding' in my cover letter without putting out there that I was a patient. That fact will come out anyway if I am granted an interview, so I appreciate your insight and wisdom.

I've never applied for a position with a place where I was a patient. And they didn't really discuss such issues in nursing school. I am very grateful for all of your advice. I am so sorry if you thought your reply was not appreciated. I value the opinions of seasoned nurses very much, and I learn something new every day. Thank you for your help!


Specializes in Oncology; medical specialty website.

I think it’s a good idea at least in the beginning to wait until you go into too much detail regarding your medical history. In some respects it could turn out to be a plus for you, esp. down the road. You don’t want to give them the impression that your only reason for applying there is due to some unresolved issues related to your treatment.

If you go about it wisely, I think you could wind up being a major asset to that unit. And thanks for clarifying the misunderstanding.

Thank you for the great advice! I just finished my cover letter without mention of it, but did mention 'unique insights' to patient care.

I am very grateful! Thank you so much for your help.

And sorry about the misunderstanding...I have really unclear 'chemo-brain' days still, lol.


Specializes in Oncology; medical specialty website.

Thank you for the great advice! I just finished my cover letter without mention of it, but did mention 'unique insights' to patient care.

I am very grateful! Thank you so much for your help.

And sorry about the misunderstanding...I have really unclear 'chemo-brain' days still, lol.

I can totally sympathize with the chemobrain issue.


First off, congratulations on being a survivor, that's HUGE!

Second of all, chances are there are people at that practice who will remember you, so if you do not mention it, it may look like you are trying to hide something. I would put something in the cover letter like this:

"Having been treated successfully at XYZ clinic, I feel that I know the staff and would be a good fit. I appreciate the way everyone works together for the benefit of the patient..." blah blah...whatever is true.

Third...were you a good patient or a pain in the rear. No offense meant, but I am a good nurse and a really awful patient, there is no way anyone who ever cared for me would hire me. I think that you know the answer to that. From what I have seen in oncology offices (I shadowed a nurse there while in school to try to decide if I wanted to focus on onc - I don't) they are a close knit group who make the patients into almost family members. If you were a good patient, that will translate into you being a good nurse in their minds.

Finally--Search your soul and see if you really are emotionally up to this. You are going to see patients with the same diagnosis struggle, suffer and die. If being able to help them in some way as a nurse appeals to you, go for it! On the other hand, if it is going to set you on an emotional roller coaster, give you nightmares, and generally foul up your life, then back away.

Just my opinion.


Thank you for the input and insights.

Yes, the nursing staff (infusion room), my clinical trial nurse navigator, my oncologist and at least 3 of the other 15 physicians, will know me the moment they see me. I do not know the HR administrator.

I had an amazing relationship with the infusion nurses, and my doctor. I always brought my laptop and headphones and watched comedy DVD's while being infused (every visit was at least 3 hours due to the addition of the trial drug). Every now and then, I would burst out in laughter, almost crying, and so would my nurse. The other patients would start giggling at this too. Once, when my BARD port jammed up, we tried just about everything to get it flowing. After 20 minutes, she says "okay, why don't you stand on your head for a minute, and we will try this thing again". I start to do a hand stand, and she, and all the other nurses, cracked up! To this day, I still blame my falling for it on 'chemo brain', lol.

I missed them all after I completed my course of treatment. And they were the biggest inspiration for my change of career from accounting to nursing.

I already sent my cover letter and resume. I included hints, but did not lay everything out there. The HR manager doesn't know me, and I don't know the 'weed and feed' criteria for resumes she uses before she takes the select few to the physicians committee for review, and invitation for interview. She might have excluded me from the beginning for being a 'risk', or she might have moved me to the front of the pack, I just don't know.

After thinking about this for a few days, I rather like that if I am granted an interview, or at least make it to the physicians committee, that it will be on my own merit as a nurse, and not as a former cancer patient. If I am fortunate enough to score the interview, of course I will reveal everything. And since I cast hints in the cover letter, it shows that I wasn't 'hiding' anything.

Some of our friends here have advised me about the emotional aspect, and I have given it great consideration. I really want to be in oncology. I want to use my experiences to help those who are going through what I have been through, even if I have to let some of them go. I don't know how I will feel about it when that happens, but I am healthy, and I do still attend support groups and take care of my psyche. Fortunately, this position begins in patient intake and maintenance, which will give me at least a year in the center. If all things work well for me (and them!), I can move to the infusion room after one year.

Having friendly, supportive, entertaining, and skilled nurses is a big part of what got me through everything. If I can give just a fraction of what I received back to others who need it, I will be fulfilled.

Monkey, you are so awesome! I love that you want to do this on your own merit, and I hope you get it! I'm afraid I wouldn't be so stoic, I would probably do something hokey like stop by with donuts for all the nurses that cared for me, then ask them to speak on my behalf. (just a thought!)

I don't think being a former patient should stand in the way of getting the job!! on the other hand, everyone hates tax accountants! (Just kidding!)

Thank you! :cheeky:

I actually brought them a plate of brownies at my FINAL appointment in July this year (5 years cancer free, woot woot!).

I brought them the brownies as an apology for having worked in accounting for 20 years... :roflmao:

Monkey-5 years!! That is SO awesome! I think at the interview I would speak like you do in here!! Make them understand how you want to help patients like they helped you. Make them understand that you think that the job they do is one of the most important meaningful jobs someone CAN do and that you will only feel fulfilled if you get a chance to do it. You walked that road, you know what they give to patients. Do NOT worry about being emotional....make them feel what you feel and you will get the job! You showed us the emotion and came through as one of the best most caring nurses on these forums...make them see what we see in you and you cannot lose!

Awwwwww, shucks. Thank you! :shy: