The rewards and challenges of oncology nursing

June 27, 2016


Oncology nurses are dedicated to caring for cancer patients. For those suffering from cancer, oncology nurses are their strongest support system. These nurses are there with them during their most difficult and challenging moments in life. They are the ones at the bedside at all times of the day or night, encouraging, educating and offering words of comfort and advice. Oncology nurses are also the ones behind the scenes, coordinating patient care, communicating with doctors and everything possible to keep patients pain free.

While performing all of the above tasks can be incredibly satisfying, it can also be an emotional rollercoaster, with huge highs and low lows. Many experienced nurses who work in oncology readily admit that this field, in particular, is one of the most challenging and rewarding fields in nursing.

A look at what oncology nursing involves

As an oncology nurse, you will work with patients suffering from all types of cancer. Depending on the facility you are employed in, you may work with adults or with paediatric patients.

Some of your main tasks and responsibilities in this role will include:

  • Performing patient assessment and reviewing their health history
  • Administering medications and other oncology treatments such as chemotherapy
  • Keeping track of imaging, pathology and laboratory findings
  • Helping patients understand the disease
  • Helping patients manage side effects related to the treatment
  • Educating patients about what to expect during their treatment and afterwards too
  • Explaining complex medical terminology to patients and their families and answering all of their answer questions
  • Collaborating and communicating with doctors and other clinicians to develop the most effective treatment plan

In this role, you will often serve as the patient’s first line of communication. You will be responsible for coordinating the many aspects of care throughout the cancer treatment.

Workplace settings for oncology nurses

Oncology nurses work in a variety of settings ranging from hospital and outpatient clinics to home health agencies and infusion centres. In all of these settings, they work hand in hand with oncologists, oncology surgeons, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers.

Why the challenges of oncology nursing are so different from other nursing specialties

Caring for cancer patients can be physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. During your shift, you will care for several patients suffering from different types of cancer. As an oncology nurse, you will have to keep track of numerous details throughout the day for each patient. Even a small mistake could adversely affect a patient’s health, so attention to detail is crucial.

Despite all of the stresses of the job, one of the most challenging aspects of this specialty lies in knowing that despite the best of care, some patients will not survive their illness. Nurses have to distance themselves emotionally from the inevitable while still offering unstinting support, compassion and empathy not only to the patient but even their families. Because of the challenges stresses that come with caring for people with cancer, nurses who work in oncology often experience physical and emotional burnout earlier than nurses in most other specialties.

Explore a wide variety of different nursing roles by shadowing a nurse or midwife in their own hospital. 



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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.