Why are you an oncology nurse?



I have been a nurse for 3 years with critical care experience. I have been interested in oncology nursing for a while. I do see a lot of oncology patients with interventional radiology as well. I wanted to know why you love oncology nursing and how long have you been in this specialty? What type of qualities (In your opinion) should a person have to work in oncology?

Specializes in ER, GI, Occ Health. Has 9 years experience.

Apparently not much love for oncology nursing! LOL

Specializes in Oncology, ID, Hepatology, Occy Health. Has 37 years experience.
36 minutes ago, Chickenlady said:

Apparently not much love for oncology nursing! LOL

Not true, we're all just too busy.

Been doing oncology for 11 years. Discovered it after already being qualified over 20 years. It's the best. Had I known I would have done it earlier.

Your critical care skills will come in handy because as discussed in another thread about stereotypes about specialities, oncology is more acute than many people think. You encounter all sorts of critical events in patients who are still viable for resus, so there are as many emergencies as elsewhere which many non-oncology nurses don't appreciate.

For me oncology combines the excitement of fast, acute nursing with the softer side of patient relations, terminal care etc. You've got the whole range from diagnostics and acute treatment to the palliative care, which is so rewarding when a peaceful death is well managed.

Chemo is another world - wonderfully interesting and requiring a new skill set. Now there's more and more immunotherapy bringing different challenges.

Once you're used to port-a-caths you never want to see another peripheral line ever!

I'd say you need to be a good listener and be good at the softer side of our almost counselling rôle, but at the same time you need to know when to give them straight talk and to be able to detach yourself - they've got their friends and families to hug them, you're not really there for that. I think the over dreamy "they're all so wonderful, I love them all" oncology nurse doesn't give as good as their colleagues if they're always getting overwrought themselves. We're not robots and some patients we get choked over, but if it's happening every day, oncology's not really for you.

It is a very rewarding, stimulating and interesting speciality. If you fancy it go for it.

Specializes in Inpatient Oncology/Public Health. Has 16 years experience.

I’ve been an Onc nurse for 13 years, the whole time I’ve been a nurse. I was lucky enough to have an Onc rotation as a student, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

The patients are incredibly acute, and I agree with the previous poster, you have to be on your toes. These patients can turn on a dime, seem fine one minute, and then quickly take a turn for the worse. You need to be excellent at recognizing early signs of infection and really advocating for further diagnostics if you feel it’s warranted.

Chemo can be overwhelming but you’re often doing the same few protocols and you become very familiar with the precautions/side effects for each drug. You usually don’t see the crazy adverse effects (like neurotoxicity) but a few times you do, and you never forget it. 

I personally love end of life care, but it can be emotionally exhausting helping patients and families who are struggling with when to stop treatment, stop invasive interventions, and accept death. But when you’ve seen a patient suffering for weeks and they are made comfort care, and you get them all sorted, the family looks relieved, their pain is eased, It is truly rewarding. 

Best wishes to you! It is not a boring specialty and you are constantly learning, but it can take a mental toll on you over time. When we have a series of young people with families die, I do ponder possibly pursuing something else. 


Specializes in Pediatrics.

Very helpful thank you 


1 Post

Specializes in Oncology. Has 5 years experience.

I think it largely depends on whether you work in a hospital or private practice. In my opinion private practice is the way to go because you get to see the same patients all the time and you get to learn the chemo regimens and immunotherapies in depth. I’m actually a relatively new nurse but I love, love working infusion oncology/hematology. I don’t think you need to have an extensive critical care background but it does help when you know what hits the fan. I have heard the hospital is more overwhelming and frankly I’m uncomfortable with the fact you can’t see a patient getting Rituxan the whole entire time. If a patient has a reaction and you don’t see it right away, talk about scary! If you want low drama and hate the pressures of the hospital, private infusion is amazing! Lots of my coworkers worked oncology in the hospital and hated it because it was basically a glorified med/surg with chemo thrown in, which again, scary. But yes, excellent IV skills is a must, know how to access ports and recognize when they are not working right. Learn all you can about the specialty, it’s dangerous if mistakes get made. Most of all, compassion and helping patients get through treatment. It’s so rewarding to see patients get through cancer and heartbreaking when they have to stop treatment all together. It can be emotionally draining but if you work at the right place, with the right MDs, it’s great. 

C_AlexanderRN, BSN, RN

1 Article; 4 Posts

Specializes in Oncology. Has 13 years experience.

I've been an Oncology nurse for my entire career...11 years as an RN and 1 year as a nursing assistant during nursing school. I LOVE Oncology! You see many of the same patients over the course of months, or years, and develop close bonds. Oncology patients teach you strength, perseverance, and remind you not to take anything for granted. Onc patients rely on nurses to be their advocates when they are most vulnerable. A good oncology nurse needs to be a skillful listener who can gently offer suggestions and help guide conversations especially at the end of life. We are often the ones who stay behind in the patient's room after a family meeting, explaining what the provider said.

Your critical care experience is perfect for the Oncology population! Onc patients can be highly acute, and their hemodynamics can change on a dime. You need to be able to manage sepsis, bleeding, clotting, LOTS of tubes and drains, wound care, and common side effects of cancer treatment (constipation, diarrhea, N/V, infection, myelosuppression, mucositis).

Best of luck!


7,735 Posts

Specializes in retired LTC.

Reading this late -

On ‎8‎/‎26‎/‎2020 at 7:53 PM, DavidFR said:

 .....  Once you're used to port-a-caths you never want to see another peripheral line ever!

   ..... It is a very rewarding, stimulating and interesting speciality. If you fancy it go for it.

David - very heartfelt comment. And I laughed re the port-a-caths.