Specialty Spotlight

Specialty Spotlight: Oncology Nurses on the Forefront of Cancer Care


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Being able to make a tremendous difference in the lives of cancer patients, combined with being at the forefront of exciting new scientific discoveries, is what new oncology nurses can expect if they choose this profession.

It is a rewarding career path that has offered opportunities to transform care and improve the quality of life for patients with cancer, according to oncology nurse Paula Trahan Rieger, RN, MSN, AOCN, FAAN, former chief executive officer of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS).

Rieger, who spent more than 20 years as a nurse practitioner in the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention, Human Clinical Cancer Genetics Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, offers advice to nursing students and new graduates interested in pursuing a career in oncology nursing.

What do you enjoy most about being an oncology nurse? 

The ability to work in a specialty that allows nurses to make a tremendous difference in the lives of patients and families, and one that is in the midst of exciting scientific discoveries that will change the way we think about the management of cancer.

What can a new oncology nurse expect in the first few months or the first year on the job? 

The new nurse can expect a time of intense learning as he or she begins to apply the skills and knowledge learned in formal training.

What is the most challenging part of the role of oncology nurse? 

The most challenging part is being able to keep up with the many changes and new discoveries in cancer care. Learning to balance and keep in perspective both the joys and sadness of working with patients and families in the continuum of cancer care also can be challenging.

What is one critical piece of advice you would offer a nursing student or new graduate interested in pursuing a career as an oncology nurse? 

Look for a good mentor—one that can help you along in your new career, in navigating the challenges of a first year in practice, and one that can open the door to the many professional opportunities that await you.

What are the important steps to take to prepare for the oncology nurse career path? 

Find a job that will support professional practice and the opportunity to seek continuing education that will provide a basic foundation in oncology. Join a professional society, such as ONS, that will provide educational opportunities, access to leadership training and opportunities, as well as a professional network.

For more information, visit the Web site of the Oncology Nursing Society, an organization of more than 35,000 health care professionals dedicated to advancing cancer care.

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