Working as a Pediatric Oncology nurse

June 3, 2016

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Nurses who are interested in caring for children may want to consider working in a specialty, such as oncology. Pediatric oncology nurses work with children of all ages who are suffering from cancer. Although working as a pediatric oncology nurse can be heartbreaking, it can also be a very rewarding experience. Pediatric oncology allows nurses to combine their interest in the treatment of cancer with their love for children.

The Role of a Pediatric Oncology Nurse

Nurses who work in pediatric oncology may work with children with all types of cancer, such as leukemia, brain tumors and bone cancer. Treating children with cancer is not the same as treating adults. There may be different treatment protocols for children who have the same type of cancer as adults.

In addition, some cancers only occur in children. The side effects of treatment also need to be weighed to determine if treatment may interfere with normal growth and development.

The emotional aspects of having cancer may also be different for children. A cancer diagnosis is difficult for anyone. But for kids it can be especially hard to understand. When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it does not only affect the patient. The whole family is affected. Pediatric oncology nurses have special training to understand all the factors involved in caring for kids with cancer.

The Day to Day Responsibilities

Pediatric oncology nurses perform a wide variety of procedures in both inpatient and outpatient settings. They complete assessments on children prior to having chemo administered to make sure a child is healthy enough to tolerate the treatment. Nurses also administer chemotherapy as ordered by the doctor.

During treatments, nurses perform routine assessments to monitor the child for side effects including life-threatening reactions. After treatment is administered, nurses may give medication or additional treatments to help children cope with side effects.

Additional responsibilities including educating families about their child’s condition, treatments and how they can cope with side effect at home. Nurses may also provide information on diet restrictions and ways to prevent infection.

How to Get Started as a Pediatric Oncology Nurse

The first step to becoming a pediatric oncology nurse is to complete a registered nursing program. Programs are between two and four years. After graduating, your next hurdle is passing the exam to obtain your state nursing license.

Once you’re licensed, it is time to put your education to work and gain some experience. In most cases, hospitals prefer to hire pediatric oncology nurses who have at least a little experience. If possible, gain a year or more experience working in a pediatric department or adult oncology.

After gaining nursing experience, look for opportunities working in pediatric oncology. Obtaining certification may also improve your chances of landing the job you want.

The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation offers certification as a pediatric hematology oncology nurse. To be eligible to take the certification exam, nurses must have an active RN license, 12 months experience as an RN and have completed 1000 hours working in oncology with children. Certification is not mandatory, but it demonstrates a commitment to the professional and increases marketability

Traits Needed to be Successful

All types of nurses need to have good communication skills to increase their ability to work well with their patients. But nurses who work in pediatric oncology need to communicate with children at an age appropriate level. They need to understand and be sensitive to developmental differences. For example, young toddlers, school-age kids and teens all have a different understanding of their condition and may have different concerns.

In addition to good communication skills, pediatric nurses need to be emotionally strong. Not all children will survive their cancer, which is upsetting. Although it is normal to feel bad when a child dies, nurses have to find a way to cope with the challenging aspects of the job. Additionally, emergencies occur which can be life-threatening. Nurses in pediatric oncology should be able to work well under pressure and remain calm.

Compassion is also needed if you want to work in pediatric oncology. Children and families have a lot to deal with when a cancer diagnosis hits their life. Having empathy and understanding will make their situation easier to deal with. You may see the same children over the course of their treatment. Children and their families often depend on the nurses to provide them with support.

Opportunities and Salary

Most nurses who work in pediatric oncology work in hospitals or outpatient clinics. A smaller percentage of nurses also work in pediatric hospices or home settings. Opportunities to specialize within the field also exist. For example, some nurses work in bone marrow transplant units.

Salaries for pediatric oncology nurses vary based on experience and education. Nurses with a BSN degree may earn more than nurses with an associated degree. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for nurses who work in oncology was about $64,500 a year.

Pediatric Oncology Nursing Pros and Cons

Like most nursing specialties, there are positive and negative aspects of working in pediatric oncology including the following:


Job Satisfaction: It can be gratifying to know you helped a child and family through possibly the worst time in their life. Also, to see a child you cared for cancer free and moving on with their life may make the job very rewarding.

Interesting: New treatments in the field of pediatric oncology are always being researched. Being part of innovative treatments and the use of emerging technology can keep the job fresh.

Emotionally Tough: It can be difficult to experience the loss a patient, especially when it is a child. You may get to know the children and their families over time as they come in for treatment. Forming a bond is natural, which can make the loss even tougher.

Competition for Jobs: Depending on the part of the country you live in, there can be a lot of competition to get a job. Not all hospitals have a pediatric oncology department, which can limit opportunities.


Before you spend lots of money and time on a nursing degree, it’s a good idea to do some work experience to check that it’s the right career for you. Check out our overseas nursing programs which are perfect for doing just that.



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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.