Best Oncology Nurse Practitioner (ONP) Programs in 2024

Advance your nursing career with the best oncology nurse practitioner (ONP) programs in 2024. Learn more about the job duties, program costs, and salary expectations after graduation. Programs

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In the dynamic field of healthcare, specializing as an oncology nurse practitioner (ONP) represents a profound commitment to enhancing cancer care.

Like any educational pursuit, selecting the ideal program is crucial, so we've meticulously researched the best Oncology Nurse Practitioner programs available in 2024. Learn more about them as we explore their unique offerings, along with detailed information about the role, responsibilities, and salary expectations after graduation.

Whether you're a practicing registered nurse (RN) seeking to advance your career, or a prospective student curious about the profession, you've come to the right place.

Best Oncology NP Programs

The listed schools are chosen based on allnurses' methodology of surveying our readers to identify their priorities when picking programs. We considered graduation rates, student-faculty ratio, tuition fees, mode of learning, duration, and admission rates across leading nursing schools in the U.S.

1. Columbia University School of Nursing

Columbia University's School of Nursing in NYC offers a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) with a Sub-Specialty in Oncology. The curriculum includes courses like Principles and Practice of Oncology, Cancer Symptom Management, and Practicum for Cancer Symptom Management. After finishing the Pediatric Oncology Nurse Practitioner Program, students can become certified through ANCC or NCBPNP/N. They can also pursue Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON) certification from the ONCC with the required clinical hours. 

  • Duration: 30 months
  • Tuition: $72,776 estimated total tuition
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 

2. Duke University

Located in Durham, NC, Duke University offers a Professional Certificate in Oncology Specialty, which is an optional addition when completing the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). The curriculum includes concepts of cancer prevention, disease treatment, cancer epidemiology, and pathophysiology. Students also learn methods of symptom management, palliative care for the cancer patient, and survivorship. To complete the program, it only requires 10 credit hours and 224 clinic hours in other oncology settings and clinics. 

  • Tuition: $14,525 per semester.
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 

3. Azusa Pacific University 

In California, Azusa Pacific University offers a Certificate in Oncology Nurse Practitioner. The predoctoral fellowship program for oncology nurse practitioners is tailored for licensed NPs seeking to provide high-quality care to cancer patients and their families across the entire illness span. The admission requirements include a Master's degree in nursing from an accredited institution and one year of experience working in oncology nursing. The program consists of a total of 24 units.

  • Tuition: $1,160 per credit unit
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 

4. Loyola University Chicago 

Loyola University offers a BSN to DNP program with an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP with an oncology specialty. They also offer a Certificate in Oncology Nursing for advanced practice nurses and BSN graduates who want to advance their skills in this field. The online certificate comprises nine semester hours, while the AGPC NP with Oncology specialty requires 72 semester hours. 

  • Tuition: $1,130 per credit hour
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 

5. University of South Florida 

USF's program in Tampa, FL, offers a BSN to DNP with a concentration in Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner with a subspecialty in Oncology. The program is designed to prepare graduates to assume an advanced practice role in the provision of care for adults across the lifespan in a variety of acute and ambulatory care settings. Students can complete the program full-time or part-time with the requirement of 35 credit hours.

  • Tuition: $347.91 per credit hour
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 

6. University of Pennsylvania 

The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia offers an Adult Oncology Nurse Practitioner Certificate program that requires only 3 course units to complete. The program prepares students to provide comprehensive care to adults with cancer, including cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. This hybrid program mandates three courses, blending online and on-campus visits. In each Fall and Spring semester, students are obliged to participate in two on-campus days at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. 

  • Duration: 12 months
  • Tuition: $6,982 per course unit 
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 

7. University of North Carolina 

The University of North Carolina offers an MSN with a concentration in Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner and a subspecialty in Oncology. The program is located in Chapel Hill, NC, and is designed to prepare students to provide comprehensive care to adults across the lifespan. Students are expected to finish five clinical courses, covering advanced diagnostic reasoning and managing and handling common adult health problems and issues. The tuition fee for a full-time resident student is approximately $9,667, while the part-time cost is $5,329.

  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 

8. University of California San Francisco 

The University of California, San Francisco offers a DNP with a concentration in Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner and a subspecialty in Oncology (AG CNS-Oncology). The program is designed to prepare students to provide comprehensive care to adults across the lifespan and implement best practices upon graduation. The 12-quarter hybrid program integrates in-person and virtual didactic courses with practical training at clinical sites across the San Francisco Bay Area. In-state tuition costs around $42,199.

  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 

What Is an Oncology NP Program?

An Oncology Nurse Practitioner (ONP) program is a specialized graduate-level educational track designed for Registered Nurses who wish to specialize in the care of cancer patients. This program prepares nurses to deliver comprehensive healthcare services, including the assessment, diagnosis, and management of oncological conditions. ONPs play a crucial role in cancer care teams within hospitals, oncology clinics, and specialized cancer treatment centers.

ONP Coursework

The coursework in an ONP program focuses on subjects essential for advanced cancer care, including:

  • Oncology Pathophysiology: Understanding the biological and physiological processes of cancer development and progression.
  • Advanced Oncology Nursing Practices: Techniques and interventions for managing complex oncological health issues.
  • Oncology Pharmacology: Detailed study of chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, immunotherapy, and other cancer treatments.
  • Palliative and Supportive Care: Strategies to improve the quality of life for cancer patients by managing symptoms and providing emotional support.
  • Ethics in Oncology Care: Navigating ethical dilemmas commonly encountered in oncology, including end-of-life decisions and informed consent.

ONP Clinical Training

Clinical training is a critical component of the ONP program, providing practical, hands-on experience in oncology care:

  • Direct Patient Care: Supervised direct care of cancer patients, focusing on treatment administration, symptom management, and holistic support.
  • Diverse Clinical Settings: Training opportunities in a variety of settings such as oncology wards, outpatient cancer clinics, and palliative care facilities.
  • Care for Diverse Populations: Exposure to treating patients across different stages of cancer, from diagnosis through end-of-life care.
  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Working closely with oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, and other healthcare professionals to deliver integrated and comprehensive cancer care.

This structured educational approach ensures that ONPs are well-prepared to address the complex needs of cancer patients and effectively support their journey through treatment and beyond.

Prerequisites & Requirements

To ensure readiness for the challenging role of an Oncology Nurse Practitioner (ONP), prospective students must meet designated prerequisites and fulfill program requirements.

ONP Educational Pathways

To specialize as an Oncology Nurse Practitioner (ONP), nurses typically follow one of three educational pathways:

  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): This path requires 2-3 years of graduate-level education, weaving oncology-specific coursework with practical clinical experience, built upon a primary NP concentration.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): A more in-depth 3-4 year program that melds advanced oncology nursing with a foundational NP concentration, culminating in a significant scholarly project or dissertation.
  • Post-Graduate Oncology Certificate: This route offers intensive, specialized training in oncology, typically completed over the course of one to two years. It builds on prior NP education to develop focused expertise in oncology nursing practice.

While Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees provide foundational pathways, most ONP programs are offered via a post-graduate certificate, typically requiring prior MSN or DNP education in Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP), or Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) specializations.

ONP Prerequisites

Admission prerequisites are designed to ensure candidates have a strong nursing foundation and relevant experience. The minimum requirements for most ONP programs include:

  • Nursing Degree: A Bachelor's or Master's in Nursing from an accredited institution, depending on your educational pursuit toward ONP.
  • RN Licensure: An active, unencumbered RN license.
  • Oncology Clinical Experience: Direct patient care in oncology or related settings.
  • Coursework: Relevant undergraduate subjects, such as statistics and research methods. Post-graduate certificate students should have completed coursework in an FNP, AGNP, or ACNP program.
  • Minimum GPA: A GPA of 3.0 or higher is commonly required.

ONP Requirements

Requirements during the ONP program are centered on both academic and practical training essential for specialized oncology care:

  • Course Completion: Successful completion of all required advanced oncology nursing courses.
  • Clinical Hours: Oncology nursing programs typically require a minimum of 500 postgraduate clinical hours, with some DNP programs requiring at least 1,000 hours.
  • Capstone or Thesis Project: Some programs may require a project that demonstrates a deep understanding of a complex oncology nursing issue.
  • Certification Exam: Graduates need to pass a foundational certification exam as an FNP, AGNP, or ACNP to practice as a board-certified ONP.
  • Maintaining RN Licensure: Active RN licensure is required throughout the duration of the program.

These pathways and requirements prepare ONPs to provide expert care in the specialized field of oncology, addressing the unique needs of patients with cancer.

Oncology NP Job Description

An ONP is an APRN who specializes in treating patients with cancer. They work in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, oncology clinics, and private practices.

Responsibilities

Here are some of the key responsibilities and duties of an Oncology NP:

  • Patient Assessment: ONPs conduct thorough health assessments, including taking medical histories and performing physical examinations. They also interpret diagnostic tests like blood tests, imaging studies, and biopsies.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment: ONPs diagnose health conditions and develop treatment plans. They manage the care of patients undergoing cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. They also manage the side effects and complications of these treatments.
  • Prescribing Medication: ONPs can prescribe medication, including chemotherapy drugs, pain medication, and medication to manage the side effects of cancer treatment.
  • Patient Education: ONPs educate patients and their families about cancer, treatment options, potential side effects, and the overall process of care. They also provide counseling and emotional support.
  • Coordination of Care: ONPs coordinate care with a team of healthcare professionals, including physicians, oncologists, nurses, and social workers. They also refer patients to other healthcare services as needed, such as physical therapy, nutrition counseling, and mental health services.
  • Research and Advocacy: Some ONPs are involved in cancer research, studying new treatments and ways to improve patient care. They may also advocate for cancer patients, working to improve access to care and quality of care.
  • Palliative Care and End-of-Life Care: ONPs often provide palliative care to manage symptoms and improve quality of life for patients with advanced cancer. They may also provide end-of-life care, supporting patients and their families during this difficult time.

It's important to note that the scope of practice for an ONP can vary depending on the state's laws and regulations. Some states allow ONPs to practice independently, while others require them to work under the supervision of a physician or oncologist.

Oncology NP Program Costs

Oncology NP Program expenses can vary, impacted by multiple aspects. Here are the primary financial factors for NP Program evaluation:

  • Tuition: This differs by institution type and residency, with in-state residents and public schools typically costing less. 
  • Educational Materials: Costs for textbooks and supplies may range widely.
  • Online Resources: Additional technology fees may be incurred in online or hybrid programs.
  • Course-Specific Fees: Lab fees may apply for certain courses, adding to the cost.
  • Administrative Costs: Application and graduation fees, among others, add to the total expenses.
  • Living Costs: Important for those not working while studying or relocating for the program.
  • Certification Expenses: There are fees associated with NP board certification post-graduation.

For oncology NP students, financial planning is key. Investigating scholarships, grants, and loans early on can ease the cost of education. Resources like healthcare organizations and nursing associations often provide targeted financial support, so it's worthwhile to apply for these opportunities proactively. When it comes to loans, federal options usually offer better terms than private ones, so understanding the fine print on repayment is important. Thoughtful consideration of these financial strategies can help manage the investment in an oncology NP education.

Oncology NP Salary Expectations

The earnings of an Oncology Nurse Practitioner (ONP) can fluctuate significantly based on various factors like geographic location, years of experience, practice setting, and education level, including certification. Other influencing factors may include the demand for specialized skills, facilities, and the local cost of living.

Based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), NPs earn an average salary of $124,680 annually or $59.94 per hour.

The top-paying states for NPs are:

  • California: $158,130
  • New Jersey: $143,250
  • Massachusetts: $138,700
  • Oregon: $136,250
  • Nevada: $136,230

The top three metropolitan areas with the highest NP employment levels are:

  • New York -- Newark -- Jersey City (NY & NJ) $170,320
  • Los Angeles -- Long Beach -- Anaheim (CA) $149,110
  • Chicago -- Naperville -- Elgin (IL)  $126,020

Regrettably, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide distinctions among various Nurse Practitioner (NP) specialties. However,  ZipRecruiter reports that the national average salary for ONPs is $130,295 or $63 per hour. ZipRecruiter also reports a diverse range of Oncology Nurse Practitioner salaries across the United States, spanning from $108,000 to $180,000 annually. 

Are Oncology NP Programs Worth It?

Pursuing a career as an Oncology Nurse Practitioner requires serious consideration, given the significant educational and emotional investments required. It's crucial to evaluate the potential rewards and challenges of such a specialized field.

Pros of ONP Programs:

  • Specialized Care: ONPs provide essential care to cancer patients, often forming close bonds and significantly impacting their quality of life.
  • High Demand: With an aging population and advances in cancer treatment, the need for oncology nurse practitioners is increasing, offering strong job security.
  • Competitive Salaries: The specialized nature of oncology care often comes with higher compensation, reflecting the complex skill set ONPs possess.
  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration: ONPs work closely with oncologists, radiologists, and other healthcare professionals, offering diverse and dynamic work environments.
  • Personal Fulfillment: Despite the challenges, the role is incredibly rewarding, as ONPs are key in supporting patients and families through difficult times.

Cons of ONP Programs:

  • Emotional Demands: Working with oncology patients can be emotionally challenging, with a significant toll on mental health.
  • Cost of Education: Specialized ONP programs can be expensive, leading to financial strain and potential debt.
  • Intense Curriculum: The rigorous coursework and clinical requirements can be stressful and time-consuming.
  • Ongoing Education: ONPs must commit to continuous learning and recertification to stay current with the latest cancer treatments and protocols.
  • Work-Life Balance: The demanding nature of the work can impact personal time, requiring ONPs to manage a delicate balance.

Weighing these factors is crucial for any nurse considering an ONP program. While the career is filled with challenges, the impact on patient care and the personal satisfaction of making a difference can make it a worthy path for many.

Oncology NP Program Accreditation

Ensuring your prospective ONP program is accredited is important for several reasons:

  • Educational Standards: Accreditation ensures NP programs meet nationally standardized nursing education criteria.
  • Skill Acquisition: Such programs go beyond minimums to fully equip students for healthcare challenges.
  • Innovation Emphasis: Accreditation mandates the integration of current research into the learning process.
  • Clinical Training: Accredited programs enforce specific clinical training hours for real-world readiness.
  • Professional Pathways: Graduation from an accredited program can be critical for certification and licensure.
  • Employment Advantage: Graduates from accredited programs are favored by employers for their verified education.
  • Academic Mobility: Accredited program credits are widely accepted for further education.
  • Credibility: Completing an accredited program signals professional readiness and adherence to national standards.
  • Financial Aid Access: Accreditation is often required for eligibility for federal educational financial aid.

Prospective NP students should prioritize programs accredited by recognized bodies like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) for these advantages.

Oncology NP State Licensing & Certification 

The scope of practice and the level of autonomy for Oncology Nurse Practitioners vary considerably across different states, influenced by individual state laws and regulatory frameworks. These regulations define the extent of clinical duties an ONP can perform, from diagnosing and prescribing independently to requiring collaboration or supervision from physicians.

Individuals pursuing an ONP career must thoroughly understand these state-specific legal stipulations. It's essential to ensure that the chosen advanced practice nursing program meets the practice requirements of the intended state of practice. Proper alignment with state regulations guarantees that ONPs are well-prepared to handle the specialized responsibilities of their role in oncology care.

Essential points for Oncology NPs to consider:

  • State Licensure: Achieving licensure that aligns with the regulations of the intended state of practice is essential. Moving between states may require ONPs to navigate different licensure requirements.
  • Practice Autonomy: Depending on the state, ONPs may have varying levels of practice independence, as outlined by professional bodies like the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). 
    • Full Practice: The majority of states allow Oncology Nurse Practitioners (ONPs) full practice authority. This means ONPs can evaluate patients, diagnose diseases, interpret diagnostic tests, develop treatment plans, and prescribe medications autonomously.
    • Reduced Practice: There are 15 states where ONPs have reduced practice authority. In these states, ONPs can perform many of the same roles as those in full-practice states but must have a collaborative agreement with a physician for certain aspects of care.
    • Restricted Practice: In 11 states, ONPs work under restricted practice authority. These regulations require ONPs to maintain a relationship with a supervising physician who oversees their clinical practice, which includes the ability to diagnose and prescribe.

ONPs must ensure their educational program meets the regulatory standards of the state in which they wish to practice, adhering to the local Board of Nursing requirements and professional norms. The forthcoming APRN Compact has been created with the goal of expanding the reach of all NPs by allowing practice across multiple states, thereby enhancing professional mobility and opportunity.

ONP National Certification

Securing national certification is a uniform requirement for nurse practitioners, including those specializing in oncology. For ONPs, the required certification is the Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP) credential from the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation. This certification confirms the practitioner's expertise in oncology nursing.

Prior to sitting for the AOCNP certification exam, prospective ONPs will have to complete and pass a foundational NP certification exam in Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP), or Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP) specializations, with accrediting organizations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) or the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (ACCN), before focusing on passing the oncology certification.

Navigating these certifications and state-specific requirements underscores the importance of targeted preparation and adherence to regulatory standards, ensuring ONPs can deliver expert oncology care within the legal framework of their practice environment.

Oncology NP FAQ

What kind of education is required to become an ONP?

Becoming an Oncology Nurse Practitioner (ONP) involves obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, passing the NCLEX-RN exam to become a Registered Nurse (RN), and gaining clinical experience. Subsequently, pursuing an advanced degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with a specialization in oncology is recommended, although direct concentrations in Oncology Nurse Practitioner programs can be limited. Starting with an NP concentration in Adult-Gerontology or Family Nurse Practitioner is often suggested, followed by obtaining certification as an NP with an oncology specialty. 

Can ONPs prescribe medication?

ONPs can prescribe medication, including chemotherapy drugs, pain medication, and medication to manage the side effects of cancer treatment. However, the specific regulations regarding prescription authority can vary by state.

What are the benefits of becoming an ONP?

Becoming an ONP can be a rewarding career choice. ONPs have the opportunity to make a significant impact on the lives of patients with cancer. They also have a high degree of autonomy in their practice, and the field offers excellent job prospects and competitive salaries.

Editorial Team / Admin

Julia Liou has 4 years experience as a RN and specializes in Postpartum/Public Health.

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