Oncology Nurse Training and Certificate Program Overviews
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 a clinical nurse specialist or a nurse practitioner, although most programs are intended for nurse practitioners. Learn more below.
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.
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.
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
- Terminal care
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 2008 and 2018, especially in rural and inner-city situations where they are required to replace physicians as less-expensive providers of primary care (www.bls.gov).
O*Net gave separate statistics for an NP and a CNS. NP jobs were projected to grow up to 13% in 2008-2018, and CNS jobs were expected to increase up to 19% in that same period. In 2009, average hourly wages for NPs were about $31.00, while a CNS could earn a little over $39.00 per hour (online.onetcenter.org).
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.
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.
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
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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