Want advice from experienced oncology RNs


I will graduate later this month and I have an interest in oncology with no oncology experience. I've been reading different posts and it seems to vary as to whether an oncology unit will hire a new grad. I would like some advice from an experienced oncology nurse. Do you think oncology units should hire new grads? Do you think a new grad would benefit from being on a med/surg floor first?

I know some nurses tell me you should aim for a job in the department you want to work and they will train you, but right now, I am not finding openings in oncology that I can apply for.

Any thoughts shared would be appreciated. Thanks.

Esme12, ASN, BSN, RN

4 Articles; 20,908 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care, ED, Cath lab, CTPAC,Trauma. Has 43 years experience.


I think all nurses benefit from med surg before they specialize.....but I say go for it!

Specializes in Vascular Access, Infusion Therapy.

Oncology is a great floor to start on and is a wonderful specialty.

Keep in mind, you do not only hang chemo all day. In my experience Oncology floors are like a Med-Surg unit with as much variety of issues and experiences but all the patients have one thing in common...


746 Posts

Specializes in oncology, MS/tele/stepdown. Has 6 years experience.

I agree with Asystole that there's a lot of medsurg in oncology. As long as you have appropriate support and training there's no reason you can't excel there as a new grad.


6 Posts

I started on a med/surg floor and about a year later transferred to an oncology floor, so I might be a little biased, but I think that it is great to have some med/surg experience. I think it allows you to look at the whole patient, because not every problem a patient has will be related to their cancer. That being said, there is nothing wrong with going for the specialty you want right out of school, and you will learn a lot of med/surg on an oncology floor as well.


170 Posts

Specializes in BMT. Has 12 years experience.

I spent about a year and a half in med surf first, and I think it established a foundation I wouldn't give back. I saw a little of everything. I'm now in heme Onc, and have been for 2.5 years. We get patients either as borders or onc patients who have other issues that allow me to rely on those med surg skills.

That being said, I have plenty of coworkers who have worked solely in oncology who are just as, if not more, skilled and/or knowledgable than I. If you know without a doubt you want to work in oncology go for it! If you think you might benefit from med surg, or as a new grad just want to take the first job you get, go for it! The beauty of our profession is you don't have to choose a specialty right out of school and stick to it. You can easily change your mind, and nursing experience in oncology or med surg will be valued anywhere you go.

Has 23 years experience.

I was an old battle ax psych nurse when I started oncology. They had an RN Resident program at my hospital, where you'd have six weeks with a preceptor before you were turned loose. This is a medical oncology floor btw. We had pneumonias and cellulitises along with the chemo hangs. Oncology is deeply 'medical', as so many medical problems come along with the cancer/chemo experience.

A few of my co-workers lamented that new grads, even doing the Residency, were not prepared. I watched several new grads make it, though every single one who did had a very hard time. Especially the very young (early 20's) new grads.

If you are emotionally prepared to experience some hard core challenges, go for it. How else will you get the experience? Nursing has a steep learning curve wherever you go. Hopefully that is more inspiring than terrifying.

One thing on my unit was we had a good team. The new nurses weren't thrown to the wolves after their residency was done. They knew they could continue to ask any questions for the rest of their career. They witnessed old nurses asking question at that being OK. You never have to make a life and death decision without support :) Somehow nursing school makes it seem like you are going to be the ONLY one in the whole hospital trying to take care of a patient, with NO ONE to check in with. That is total hogwash, you can ask anyone anything and will continue to do so, forever. You'll never be 'alone' with someone's whole life in your hands :)


55 Posts

Specializes in Oncology. Has 5 years experience.

I got hired on to my unit (medical oncology) as a new grad. However, it was after doing my capstone on the same unit and showing the manager and other nurses I could "hack it" on their unit. Most of the new grads that have been hired did exactly the same thing. Working on a unit like mine requires the same med/surg skills as any other medicine unit, plus the extra oncology stuff, like chemo. I think it is totally doable for a new grad, but know that it will be hard. Then again, I hear that all nursing jobs are hard when you start out :) For me it was worth it... I have the best patients ever!

If oncology is where you know you want to be, I say go for it. If you don't get hired as a new grad, work on getting other experience and try again down the road. In the end, whatever experience you get on the way to your "dream job" will only make you a better nurse, no matter where you end up.


161 Posts

Specializes in Oncology.

As others before me have stated, oncology has med-surg all over it! Besides seeing cancers that affect different body parts, you will also see that cancer treatments affect different systems. Also, people don't just stop having CHF, diabetes, ect when they are diagnosed so you will see all kinda of things. I say go for it.


446 Posts

FWIW: I think it would be difficult for new grads unless you have had some clinical practicums in oncology and there is a oncology training program for new hires.

Solid tumor oncology is probably easier to start in...but hem/onc is more acute and less suitable for new grads.


3,677 Posts

Specializes in L&D, infusion, urology. Has 2 years experience.

I am a new grad who just accepted a position in outpatient oncology. They have a really good training program for new grads, and they won't let you touch chemo until you're really solid with everything else.

I can't speak to what it's like working in onc yet, but I would agree that having a good training program is key. They like that I have infusion experience and other healthcare experience, something most new grads don't have, and this makes my position unique.

See what's out there when you graduate. Oncology wasn't my first plan, but it's something that's always interested me, and I feel like it'll certainly be good experience when I move to other units later in my career.

Specializes in Primary Care | Oncology | Med/Surg. Has 11 years experience.

Please go for it! Oncology is a calling!!! I started on an inpatient heme/onc floor....of course we had overflow med/surg patients. I also participated in a med/surg fellowship....I recently hired a new grad in an outpatient onc setting, and she is awesome! great learner and eager to grasp any and all! everyone's different. I wish you the best!