What Does it Take to be an Oncology Nurse?
Oncology Nursing is an incredible specialty to go into, taking compassion, critical thinking, and the privilege of forming long lasting relationships with patients and families in some of their most challenging times in their lives. Here’s a glimpse at what it takes to be an oncology nurse:
Many of the assessments and treatments that an Oncology nurse will perform will center around central line management, access, and infusions. Oncology patients often have a central line such as a Mediport, which requires a skilled access and meticulous prevention of infection during all care as an infection in the population can be catastrophic. IV pumps, and programming will become second nature as an Oncology nurse.
The symptoms associated with chemotherapy treatments can wreak havoc on fast growing cells – such as the GI tract, skin and hair. Patients can be trying to manage mucositis or an infection of mucous membranes such as their mouth. They can have nausea, hair loss, and multiple side effects from the differing chemotherapies. Oncology nurses use autonomy in clinical decision making on how to use PRN treatments and nursing interventions to alleviate these symptoms.
Labs, labs, and more labs!
As an oncology nurse, you will be monitoring your patients’ labs closely. You will come to understand how low hemoglobin requires blood products, that certain chemo is nephro(kidney) toxic meaning we need to watch those labs carefully, and that the ANC or absolute neutrophil count which is a measure of white blood cells that help fight infection often are the indicator of when a patient can be safely discharged home. There are tales of nurses cheering on holiday mornings when those ANCs hit the threshold to allow a patient to safely leave the hospital!
The relationships you form with patients and families as an Oncology nurse is unique and powerful. Oncology patients are often in and out of the hospital for chemotherapy or clinical deterioration sometimes over a few years during ongoing treatments and monitoring. It’s not unlikely that you will get to know them, as they will get to know you on a deeper level than you may experience in other settings. This comes with understandable high moments of treatment completions and discharges, along with the extreme emotional moments of losing a patient or fighting hard to counter their sepsis or infection cursing through their blood threatening their life. Oncology nurses tend to have close connections with their colleagues from these deep emotional experiences.
Oncology nursing is an excellent specialty to choose to go into. The technology and science are ever evolving. You will need to become certified to be able to administer chemotherapy, and recertification after that. A specialty of deep patient interaction, partnered with critical thinking, and a close-knit team atmosphere is a glimpse into what being an Oncology nurse is like.