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What does an oncology nurse do?

What does an oncology nurse do?
Photo: What does an oncology nurse do?
An oncology nurse is a registered nurse who cares for and educates patients who have cancer.  Oncology nurses work in a multi-disciplinary team, in a variety of settings, from the inpatient ward, to the bone marrow transplant unit, through to the community.  They may work with a variety of patients, from children to the elderly, from outpatients through to palliative care.

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One of the primary roles of the oncology nurse is patient assessment.  They are responsible for assessing patients who have presented due to treatment side effects, as well as assessing patients pre-, during and post-chemotherapy.  The oncology nurse must be able to understand pathology results and their implications, and have an in-depth knowledge of the expected side effects of cancer treatments.  The oncology nurse must also use her interpersonal skills to listen to the patient, assessing their understanding of the disease and its process as well as the patient’s emotional state.
The oncology nurse plays a part in ensuring each cancer patient is educated about their disease, its treatments and expected side effects.  They must ascertain the level of understanding each patient and their families both have, and would like to have, and then educate accordingly.  The oncology nurse must be sensitive to the patient’s needs, understanding that not everyone likes full disclosure of information.

The oncology nurse may play a large role in coordinating the care of the cancer patient, including different treatments and tests.  They must clearly document all patient cares, keeping updated medical records to ensure continuity of care both within the nursing team and across the multi-disciplinary group that is responsible for each patient.  Oncology nurses are responsible for organising relevant referrals for patients to other healthcare providers such as dieticians, social workers or speech and language pathologists.

Oncology nurses are often responsible for the administration of chemotherapy drugs to patients.  They must be educated on safe handling, cytotoxic spills and management of allergic reactions.  The oncology nurse may be responsible for following the medical oncologist’s prescriptions, ensuring the correct drug dose is administered to the correct patient via the correct route.

Oncology nurses must manage both the symptoms of a patient’s disease and the side effects of various cancer treatments.  They must be able to evaluate each patient and initiate appropriate cares.  This may involve administering drugs or arranging for the patient to see the oncologist.  Oncology nurses must have a deep understanding of nausea, vomiting and fatigue, as these are three of the most common side effects of cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy.

Oncology nurses play a role in supporting the patient throughout their cancer journey.  They must be educated on pain assessment and management through both pharmacological and non-drug related methods.  They must have compassion and strong interpersonal skills.  Part of their role is to listen to the emotional concerns and anxieties of the patient and refer them appropriately if needed.

Oncology nurses may decide to become clinical nurse specialists.  They may become involved in educating and assessing patients in radiation therapy, brachytherapy or gynaecological specialities.  Oncology nurses can become involved in research and clinical trials as well participating in in-house ongoing education.

Oncology nurses usually work in shifts and may be rostered to work either night or day.  Outpatient nurses usually only work weekdays, whereas ward nurses are expected to work throughout the weekend.  There is a good demand for oncology nurses both within New Zealand and Australia.

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