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Oncology Nurse Training and Certificate Program Overviews

Learn about degree and certificate programs for aspiring oncology nurses, who are nurses focused on cancer care. Check the prerequisites for enrolling in these programs, and explore the typical coursework. Get job outlook and salary info for nurses.

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Essential Information

Oncology nursing professionals are advanced practice nurses who provide care for cancer patients by helping to administer chemotherapy and other cancer therapies, and they are trained to implement rehabilitative services. There are two kinds of oncology nurse training programs. The first is a Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization in oncology; the second is a postgraduate certificate in oncology. Either option can lead to a career as an oncology clinical nurse specialist or nurse practitioner, although most programs are intended for nurse practitioners. Voluntary certifications are available to these professionals. Continuing education is a requirement to maintain nursing licensure. Other career options include policymaking and cancer research.


Master's Degree in Oncology Nursing

Some institutions make a distinction at the master's degree level in oncology training between a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) and a nurse practitioner (NP). There are schools that consider nurse practitioners to be one kind of clinical nurse specialist, while other schools offer separate oncology specialties. However, the coursework for both of these job titles is much the same. The main differences are that the NP program may have additional or different courses, especially related to clinical practice. Similarly, an NP program may require more residency hours. Some institutions offer courses, or even specializations, in cancer care for children; however, most programs focus on the adult population.

Education Prerequisites

All institutions offering master's degrees in oncology nursing require a bachelor's degree and often a current registered nursing license. Some schools recommend applicants also have at least one year of nursing experience. A 3.0 GPA in advanced-level baccalaureate courses is also a common requirement.

Program Coursework

Although there may be a few differences in coursework for the NP and CNS programs, most courses are similar across the board. Master-level oncology courses may include topics in:

  • Cancer treatments, chemotherapy
  • Managing symptoms
  • Pathophysiology of cancer
  • Preventing and detecting cancer
  • Rehabilitation
  • Terminal care

Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide specific statistics for nursing specialties, such as oncology. However, the BLS stated that clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners would be in great demand between 2010 and 2020, especially in rural and inner-city situations where they are required to replace physicians as less-expensive providers of primary care (www.bls.gov).

In May of 2012, the BLS reported that registered nurses, including clinical nurse specialists, earned an average annual salary of $67,930. The BLS places nurse practitioners in their own income group; as of 2012, these professionals brought home, on average, $91,450 per year.

Continuing Education

There are no licensing or certifications required for oncology nurses other than the basic nursing license. However, the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) offers several voluntary certifications. Because certifications must be renewed every four years, many continuing-education courses are offered by the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses (APHON) and the Nurse Oncology Education Program (NOEP).


Postgraduate Certificate in Oncology Nursing

Postgraduate certificates in oncology nursing are for nurses who already have a master's degree. As is true of master's degree programs, they are predominantly designed to prepare students to become specialty nurse practitioners. Either an NP or CNS may take part in the program. Certificate programs are much less research-oriented than master's degree programs.

Education Prerequisites

Oncology nursing postgraduate certificate programs require applicants to already have an advanced nursing degree; sometimes a 3.0 GPA in graduate studies is needed. Some programs require a specialization in oncology; others require expertise in caring for adults that have needed high-intensity nursing. A few programs expect applicants to have had at least one year of experience after receiving their master's degree.

Program Coursework

Coursework varies a great deal from one oncology nursing postgraduate certificate program to another. Classes may address:

  • Complete management of cancer therapies
  • Influence of cancer treatments on other diseases
  • Influences of the body and drugs on one another
  • Predicting common clinical problems
  • Reasoning diagnostically and clinical decisions
  • Systematic methods for assessing healthcare needs
  • Clinical practice

Popular Careers

Nurse practitioners and clinical nursing specialists generally perform the same functions. However, most nurse practitioners work as clinicians. Other jobs available to those with master's degrees and advanced certificates in oncology nursing include:

  • Administrator of a cancer care unit
  • Cancer care educator
  • Cancer policymaker
  • Cancer researcher
  • Consultant in cancer care or research
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