What Do Oncology Nurses Do?

What Do Oncology Nurses Do?

Some nursing specialties are particularly challenging, and there’s no denying that oncology nursing is one of them. Oncology nurses work directly with patients who are being diagnosed or treated for cancer, and they play a vital role in our healthcare system. Though it can be an emotionally difficult position, it can also be a fulfilling one. 

So, if you’re considering a career in oncology nursing, one of your first questions may be what to expect day-to-day. Let’s look at what oncology nurses do and what the job description often entails. 

1. Provide Patient Education 

In some cases, patients may spend more time in person with their oncology nurse than they do with their oncology doctor. Either way, nurses play an essential role in patient education, especially since they’re often the most readily available when patients have questions.

Nurses are often responsible for discussing the side effects of medications and discharge or home-care instructions in great detail, even if the doctor touched on this information during appointments. They may also be able to answer some patient questions and offer suggestions, such as recommendations for treating nausea or discomfort at home after a patient goes through chemotherapy. 

2. Monitor & Document Medication Side Effects 

When patients undergo any kind of medical intervention as part of their cancer treatment plan, oncology nurses monitor and document all potential side effects and progress. In fact, one of the first things they do when they see a patient is ask them how they’re feeling and what side effects they experienced.

The importance of this exchange can’t be overstated. Nurses are the first line of defense when assessing how well a patient is handling different treatments. They can identify red-flag symptoms that need urgent care, but they can also address not-urgent-but-uncomfortable symptoms to improve the patient’s quality of life significantly. And, just as importantly, this information may be used to make further decisions about the patient’s care moving forward. 

3. Administer Medication 

Many oncology nurses play an active role in the actual treatments that patients receive. Some may work in surgical units, helping oncologists in surgery as they take biopsies or remove tumors. 

Others will be responsible for administering treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, or immunotherapy and potentially administering medication meant to help with the side effects of treatment. Many oncology nurses are also familiar with pain management treatments, which often become particularly crucial for patients with advanced cancer. 

4. Stay Up-to-Date on the Latest Care & Treatment Options 

Even though doctors are the ones developing and prescribing the patient’s treatment plan, it’s essential for oncology nurses to stay up-to-date on all the recent developments in cancer research and treatment options.

Not only will this ensure that you’re familiar with the most advanced techniques and treatments (and how to administer them well), but you could also occasionally have new ideas for how to help support patients. Whether there’s a new pain management strategy you can suggest, a clinical trial that you run by their doctor, or even just general knowledge that can help you answer patients’ questions, this is an important role you’ll need to follow through on. 

5. Perform Phone Triage Support 

Cancer treatments are often difficult for many patients—to say the least—and patients may be struggling with new and concerning symptoms brought on by both treatments and the disease itself. 

Oncology nurses often take turns offering phone triage support. They’ll be available to field calls during the day, answering questions and determining if a patient needs to be seen by a care provider for different symptoms (and if so, how soon). They may also take overnight phone triage shifts so that someone is available to answer a patient’s questions around the clock. 

6. Collaborating with Medical Teams 

Oncology nurses often find themselves collaborating with different members of the patient’s medical team. They may be coordinating information from a patient’s primary care provider, an emergency hospital visit, and their own supervising oncology physician. It’s well-studied and well-documented that patients receive better care when there’s open communication and teamwork across their medical team when needed. 

In addition to collaborating on treatment plans and test results, nurses may also help patients get referrals to the right specialists or hospitals if needed. 

7. Taking Vitals & Assisting with Labwork 

The vitals of cancer patients are tracked closely throughout the entire diagnostic and treatment period, as is their overall health. Oncology nurses are regularly responsible for taking a patient’s vitals, including their weight, temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. They also often help with in-office bloodwork to monitor that patient’s health.  

8. Providing Support & Resources to Family 

Getting a cancer diagnosis is one of the scariest things to experience, and many consider their treatment period to be one of the hardest times of their lives. Patients and their families are often overwhelmed, scared, and exhausted. They’re worried about the health of their loved ones, but this is not all. There are often also a large number of logistical challenges plaguing them, including financing, getting to-and-from appointments, and caring for the patient at home.

Oncology nurses can offer emotional support to the patient’s family and share resources as needed. Sometimes this may mean providing information about free clinical trials; other times, it may mean providing resources regarding a patient’s current care options—including hospice care. Many oncology nurses have experience in bereavement counseling, too, as they’re the ones the patient’s family may interact with most.

Read More About this specialty

What Do Oncology Nurses Do?
What do Oncology Nurses Do?
September 30, 2023

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