How to Become an Oncology Nurse Practitioner

Professional woman smiling while outdoors
Written by Marie Hasty, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
An oncology nurse practitioner speaks with a patient.

Think you might enjoy supporting patients with cancer? If you have an eye for detail and strong compassion, you might make a great oncology nurse practitioner. This is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) that helps assess, diagnose, and treat patients with different cancers and cancer-related illnesses.

Cancer happens when normal human cells divide uncontrollably, and this unchecked growth can spread to other tissues and organs. Data shows that, for every 100,000 people in the U.S., 403 people developed cancer. APRNs in oncology help these patients experience the best outcomes possible, treating a variety of cancers through chemotherapy, radiation, and other measures.

This specialty could open up opportunities to work in hospitals, cancer centers, clinics, and acute care. Some oncology nurse practitioners specialize in one or a few types of cancers, while others may work in more generalized roles. The most common cancers that an oncology NP might see include:

  • Bladder
  • Breast
  • Colon and rectal
  • Endometrial
  • Kidney
  • Leukemia
  • Liver
  • Lung
  • Melanoma

What Do Oncology Nurse Practitioners Do?

This role requires clinical and critical thinking skills, as well as empathy and emotional intelligence. You’ll likely work alongside oncology nurses in this role, but your scope of practice will be broader.

Many of the patient care tasks you’ll do depend on the setting you work in. For example, an oncology NP in the clinic setting might not perform all of the clinical skills that they would in acute care. Here are the general skills you might perform in this role:

  • Cancer diagnosis and treatment planning for patients with different types and stages of cancer, coordinating care with oncologists and other healthcare professionals.
  • Clinical interventions, such as inserting venous access devices for chemotherapy, or performing palliative extubations.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy monitoring, managing side effects, and providing supportive care to minimize treatment-related complications.
  • Pain management and symptom management, such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, neuropathy, and other treatment-related side effects.
  • End-of-life and palliative care for patients with advanced cancer, supporting patients and their families in making decisions and facilitating access to hospice services when appropriate.
  • Psychosocial support, counseling, and resources to help patients cope with the emotional and psychological challenges of living with cancer, including anxiety, depression, fear, and uncertainty.
  • Genetic counseling and risk assessment for individuals with hereditary cancer syndromes or a family history of cancer, coordinating genetic testing and risk-reduction strategies.
  • Supporting clinical trials and research by educating patients about clinical trial options, assisting with informed decision making, and collaborating with research teams to advance cancer treatment and care.
  • Survivorship and supportive care programs to address the unique needs of cancer survivors, including rehabilitation services, survivorship clinics, and support groups.

How Much Does an Oncology Nurse Practitioner Make?

The average oncology nurse practitioner salary is $125,622 per year, but salaries vary based on education, experience, location, and work setting. Curious about the areas where nurse practitioners make the most income? Check out NP jobs in one of these highest-paying states:

How to Become an Oncology Nurse Practitioner: 5 Steps

If you’re already a nurse, becoming an NP will mean going back to school and getting certified in your state, which could take three to four years. Otherwise, you’ll need to become a nurse, and this path will likely take at least seven years. Here are the steps to becoming an oncology NP:

Step 1: Nursing School

To become an NP, you’ll need to first complete a nursing program at an accredited institution. This could be an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Depending on your goals and timeline, one of these paths may make more sense than the other. During nursing school, students learn foundational knowledge and skills in patient care, anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and medical ethics.

Step 3: Become a Registered Nurse

Before you can start work, you’ll need to gain licensure as an RN by taking the National Council Licensure Exam for RNs. The NCLEX is an adaptive exam, which means that the length of your test will depend on how you answer the questions. These include multiple choice, case study, select-all-that-apply, and more. Learn more about the newest version of the NCLEX.

Step 2: Gain Experience in Oncology

Most MSN programs require one to two years of experience as an RN to be accepted. This is a great time to build your basic skills in patient assessments, reading labs, and working with different treatment modalities. Depending on where you live, there may be opportunities to work in an oncology unit or clinic right out of nursing school, so you can start developing a specialized knowledge base right away.

You might also pursue specialty certifications, such as becoming an oncology certified nurse (OCN) or a certified breast cancer nurse (CBCN). Extra credentials will deepen your skills and make you more competitive when applying for grad school.

Step 4: Earn Your Master’s Degree in Nursing (MSN) or Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Oncology nurse practitioner programs are offered at the master’s and doctoral level. If you’re interested in a faster track to advanced practice, look for MSN programs with an oncology focus or sub-specialty. On the other hand, a DNP may offer higher income after you graduate, and it’s the terminal practice degree for nurses. A typical MSN takes between two and three years, while a doctorate programs are typically between three and five years long.

Step 5: Gain and Maintain Licensure as a Nurse Practitioner

Once you’ve completed your state’s requirements for licensure, you’ll sit for the nurse practitioner certifying exam for your specialty. Then, you can consider becoming an advanced oncology certified nurse practitioner (AOCNP), which is a credential offered by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC).

Once licensed, you’ll also need to maintain licensure to continue practicing. This means updating your RN licensure according to your state requirements, and staying current with your NP certifying body.

Flex Your Skills in Your Next Nursing Role

Whether you want to be an oncology nurse practitioner or just want a new nursing opportunity, signing up for nursing job notifications can bring you closer to that new role. IntelyCare’s tailored job listings put you in control of your career.