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Karen Harris is a clinical nurse educator at Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center (RHLCCC), Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. Karen transitioned to nurse educator after many years of working as an infusion nurse. Her strong desire to teach led her to her current role, educating and mentoring new nurses entering the oncology field. Karen was instrumental in the development of the first preceptorship program at RHLCCC to develop high-level oncology nurses. Karen also chairs RHLCCC’s Best Practice committee, ensuring evidence-based practice across the cancer center.

Why Choose Oncology as a Career Path?

My all-time favorite reason for being an oncology nurse is when patients return after receiving cancer care to say thank you!
Throughout my career in oncology, I have often heard nurses say they love oncology because of the relationships they develop with patients and their families. Shikha Jain, MD, describes oncology as an intimate field: “Patients let you into the most intimate aspects of their lives.”1

I have cared for patients for as long as 10 years. They became my family. We celebrated and cried together. Oncology nurses give patients hope and patients give oncology nurses humbleness and gratitude. But is this the only reason why nurses and other medical professionals choose oncology? What else does oncology have to offer?

There is no better time than the present to be in the field of oncology. It is exciting, rewarding, and forever evolving. In general, nurses want to grow in their field, be challenged with new research, treatments, and technologies. Oncology has all this to offer. Oncology is revolutionizing medicine with treatments such as hormonal therapy, immunotherapy, radiotherapy and more available oral therapies. Within just 5 years there have been major advances in treating cancer: new immunotherapies for the treatment of melanoma and lung cancer, the first new treatment for bladder cancer in 3 decades, a new class of treatments for breast cancer, and the first gene therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).2 These breakthroughs are due to advanced technology and precision medicine.  

The explosion of this field calls for more advanced specialized nurses: infusion nurses, nurse educators, nurse researchers, advanced practice nurses, surgical nurses, and radiation nurses. Oncology nurses can practice in a variety of settings such as hospitals, cancer infusion centers, physicians’ offices, hospice centers, and in patients’ homes. There are numerous pathways an oncology nurse can explore. 

In addition, being certified as an oncology nurse will position you as an expert in the field, increase credibility, gain professional recognition, increase hourly rates, and open more career opportunities.3 Being an oncology nurse allows you to be a part of professional organizations from which you can gain insight on what is new and trending in oncology, and meet and network with other oncology nurses from across the globe.

The oncology field is a one-stop shop of career prospects, from bedside nursing to coordination of care, education, research, leadership, and so much more. The opportunities for nurses in oncology are endless.         
With all of the great medical advances, technologies and opportunities available to be an expert in the field, my all-time favorite reason for being an oncology nurse is the smile, hug, and thank-you from patients who return months or years after receiving cancer care to express their appreciation.
  1. Why oncology is an intimate field. Op-Med website. Posted March 13, 2018. Accessed January 16, 2019.
  2. Major milestone against cancer. ASCO website. Accessed January 16, 2019.
  3. Seven reasons why oncology nurses should get certified. American Nurse today website. Accessed January 16, 2019.


Talk about this article with nurses and others in the oncology community in the General Discussions Oncology Nursing News discussion group.
More from Karen Harris, MSN, RN
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Taking a few minutes to protect yourself from exposure to hazardous drugs is better than your health being compromised.
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