One of my best friends, college roommate and fellow nurse practitioner, Jennifer, enjoys a thriving career as an oncology NP. With eight years of experience as an oncology nurse practitioner she has worked with numerous cancer patients and held some pretty interesting jobs. For those of you considering a career as an oncology nurse practitioner or who are simply interested in the nurse practitioner profession as a whole, she has agreed to help us learn more by answering a few questions about her own experiences.

How did you find your first job as an oncology nurse practitioner?

I always knew I wanted to become an oncology nurse practitioner. This being such a specialized, narrowed field, it was difficult finding my first NP job because I didn’t want to do anything else. After graduating from my nurse practitioner bridge program and not having worked as a nurse before, I worked as a staff nurse on the bone marrow transplant unit, which I loved. I gained priceless experience working on the floor, and I know it has benefited me a great deal. Getting to the question, one of my NP friends knew a recruiter who was looking for an oncology nurse practitioner in a town where I knew no one. I gave him my information, visited and decided it was for me. I worked there for about a year and a half and realized what my granddad said was true “Working conditions are usually inversely related to pay”. However, if you can get over some things, pay does help.

The world really is about “who you know”. My second job, which was and is my dream job, was obtained when another NP friend saw a doctor in the hallway who was looking for an oncology NP and she suggested me. Now, my third NP job was solely due to my own persistence, but it took over 6 months of nagging and begging.

Describe Your Work Setting and the Types of Patients You See

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I work in an outpatient clinic that is connected with and owned by a local hospital. We do radiation and chemotherapy in our clinic. I work with the medical oncologist. I practice in a rural setting, so I am in the clinic Monday through Friday. The medical oncologist is there one day a week and the radiation oncologist is there one day a week. The other days, I am the only provider. I supervise the outpatient treatment center (chemo, blood transfusions, antibiotics, etc.) and see patients on the days of their chemotherapy if the physician is not in the clinic that day. I see adult oncology patients, no children. The biggest part of my job is managing side effects of treatment and cancer, making sure chemo is ordered and staying on track as well as ordering labs and scans and interpreting them at the appropriate times. I have also worked in the clinical trial setting, which I absolutely loved, but as I said, excellent working conditions are not always accompanied by excellent pay. There’s a lot to be said for that.

Do you recommend a career as an oncology NP?

Yes! I highly recommend oncology. Although, you MUST have it in your heart.  It is much too difficult to stay in if your heart is not in it because you will lose precious people just about every day/ week. In fact, I had a manager tell me she does not hire nurse practitioners who do not have a direct connection or firm reason for working in oncology. That being said, oncology patients are the most wonderful people you will ever meet. They teach you what is important in life and do not take their moments for granted. They are grateful for what you do and actually want to participate in their own care, which is more than you can say for lots of folks. They don’t miss appointments. They could be sick with nausea and vomiting and still make a cake to bring to the clinic that morning. Not that anyone ever needs to do that, but it’s an example of how precious they are.  

What advice do you have for nurse practitioner students who want to work in oncology?  

As for recommendations to students, I would say definitely make connections while you are in school because you never know who will hear about your dream job and need to tell you that it is open. You really do need to administer chemotherapy for a while yourself before you start ordering it.  I know they say that’s not necessary, but you earn respect from your nurses and actually know what to do when you are solely in charge of that patient for a night. My biggest suggestion is to respect everyone you work with, from the janitor to the CEO, because you can learn something from everyone and take it to the bank. You will be “over” lots of headstrong nurses that are old enough to be your mother, but if you respect them and allow yourself to learn from them, you will earn their respect and priceless knowledge (99% of the time).


12 thoughts on “Interview With an Oncology Nurse Practitioner”

  1. Hello,

    I had a question, how does renewing your license go as an Oncology Nurse Practitioner? Are there any reasons why working in this setting will not qualify for renewal or meet criterias for renewal?

  2. Hi Yemi,

    License renewal for Oncology NPs is the same as for other specialities.  You renew through your certifying body, usually the ANCC, once every 5 years.  If you have met the requirements (ex. practice hours, continuing education credits) there is no reason you should have no problem renewing your license. 

  3. Hi, I am also graduating from a bridge program and hope to work as an oncology NP. Would you say it is necessary to work as a RN first, even if you plan on working primarily in an outpatient clinic? Thanks in advance!

  4. I have a dream of becoming an oncology nurse practitioner, but am struggling between choosing a family NP program or acute care NP program. Which do you think better prepares you for treating and managing oncology patients?

  5. I’m so glad you posted this topic. I’ve been an oncology RN for over 20 years. I’ll be completing my FNP program in June and was contemplating continuing as an Oncology NP. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to successfully transition from RN to NP, but a doc I work with said I’d do fine. Since beginning my clinicals and working in the family practice setting, I’ve decided to stay specialized in the oncology setting. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

  6. I am a student at Odem High SchooI and I’m currently doing a research paper. I have a couple of questions. I would like to pursue a career in the field. I would greatly appreciate if someone could answer these questions.

    1. What kind of training or backround is necassary for this type of work?
    2. How did you the job, and what kinds of experience and preparation helped you most?
    3. Who would you say has been the most help in your career? How did they help you?
    4. What are the responsibilities of this position?
    5. What do you like most, least about this job? What kind of stress do you deal with?
    6. Knowing what you know now, what advice do you have for getting into this work?
    7. What personal qualities or abilities, are important for doing well in this kind of work?
    8. For you, what part of this job is the most satisfying? most challenging?
    9. What advice would you have for somone like me, who is considering this field?
    10. What organizations would you recommend joining?

  7. As a cancer survivor and psych NP, may I suggest to oncology NPs :

    1. Please listen to the individual patient’s priorities. It was always assumed due to my age that I was most anxious for longevity, to not leave a widow, and to see the grandkids grow up. I was a late-blooming single full-time RN and grad student with no children, a bit athletic and very active in volunteering, arts, etc.. Longevity and even being pain-free was nothing to being able to finish NP school, continue helping others, and be alert and active for the remainder of my life…or as nearly as possible.
    2. When you have them do the stress thermometer checklist, if it’s high, don’t just say, “Oh, okay: Have you seen the social worker?” Make eye contact! If you don’t have time to inquire about specifics, ask if you may have the navigator or SW come visit for a moment after your visit, or if they know what they need. It might just be for you to acknowledge cancer is rough and it’s okay to be stressed and depressed.
    3. If they discover something while “reading up” that might be helpful, or they feel sure something they’re experiencing is not just a variant of what’s to be expected, LISTEN. It may sound like what you’ve heard before, but they don’t know it needs to sound different. It still might be. I saved my life 3 times over, and I was seeing a “US Best Doctors/Hospitals” team.
    4. Please don’t: praise them for their “positive attitude”, nor always speak as if cancer is a battle to be won, and especially don’t imply it’s what will see them safely through to full recovery. It’s necessary to be able to be honest with you, and very lonely when they can’t. People do get cured sometimes even when they are very pessimistic, and sometimes all the hope in the world doesn’t do anything but keep the person hopeful until it is clear the only hope is for a peaceful passage. When the battle is “lost”, feeling like a loser or lousy optimist can only make the realization harder.
    5. Please don’t wear your best perfume to the infusion center….it doesn’t mix well with nausea or sensory alterations.

    Just a few notes from personal experience…hope they can help others. Nurses may be more likely to do these automatically, but certainly not all did.

  8. I am trying to find a source for me to talk with other NPs about questions I have related to my daughters chemo for breast cancer. I am a CV NP/CNS or I was, I mostly do hospice now. But I need to talk with some peers so I can ask questions and get answers. My daughter likes to be independent and doesn’t like me asking the Dr’s without discussing with her first. I am respecting that but I still need resources.
    I have a good research article paper source but oncology is not my expertise and I need nurses perspectives.

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