What Does a Pediatric Oncology Nurse Do?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 11, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Nursing is a popular career choice for people who want to work in the medical field and support patients and their families. Pediatric oncology nurses apply their expertise to some of the most challenging treatment scenarios, making a tremendous difference in the lives of children battling cancer. If you're interested in nursing and considering potential specializations, you might benefit from learning about the role of a pediatric oncology nurse. In this article, we review what pediatric oncology nurses are, what they do, the skills they use on the job and the requirements for entering the profession.

Related: 10 Average Salaries by State as an Oncology Nurse

What is a pediatric oncology nurse?

Pediatric oncology nurses provide care for children with cancer, typically working in hospitals' hematology and oncology departments. Some also work in standalone facilities or hospice care. Pediatric oncology nurses have specialized training they use to administer treatments specific to cancer patients, such as radiation and chemotherapy. They also prepare for the unique emotional challenges that families face when a child has to undergo critical treatment.

What does a pediatric oncology nurse do?

Pediatric oncology nurses administer treatments for all types of cancer diagnoses in young patients. Since each cancer has distinct symptoms and affects patient health differently, pediatric oncology nurses work with a wide range of medical conditions and needs. Pediatric oncology nurses help patients prepare for and recover from surgery, conduct radiation and chemotherapy sessions, organize patients' rehabilitation schedules and monitor their vitals. They also update medical charts and inform doctors of any changes in patients' conditions.

A major component of pediatric oncology nurses' work is helping children and their families cope with the cancer treatment process. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a traumatic and upsetting event, but a pediatric oncology nurse's presence can provide comfort in an otherwise stressful situation. Unlike older patients, children might be too young to understand what cancer is or its implications. They also cannot make their own healthcare decisions, requiring additional coordination between doctors, nurses, patients and families.

Related: Resume for a Pediatric Nurse Position: Crafting a Top-Quality Resume

Pediatric oncology nurse skills

Here are several skills pediatric oncology nurses use daily in their roles:

Interpersonal skills

Pediatric oncology nurses interact with a considerable number of different people every day. Their interpersonal skills help them develop strong relationships with fellow nurses, doctors and patients' families. Interpersonal skills involve making the other people in your professional environment feel recognized, empowered and comfortable. Pediatric oncology nurses' interpersonal skills include leadership, the ability to remain patient and empathetic in stressful situations and ownership of their work.

Observation skills

Observation skills enable pediatric oncology nurses to process sensory information, analyze it and draw conclusions that improve job performance. All nurses rely on observation skills, but observational skills are even more important when working with children since children might lack the ability to verbalize how they feel physically or emotionally. Pediatric oncology nurses use their attention to detail and critical thinking skills to understand the reasons for changes in patient behavior, appearance or bodily health. Their consistent focus ensures that patients receive treatment that depends on complex equipment and processes safely.

Read more: Observation Skills: Definition and Examples

Communication skills

Pediatric oncology nurses use communication skills when interacting with colleagues, patients and families. They inform families of complex medical information and help children understand their conditions and treatments. This communicative flexibility requires nurses to actively listen to the concerns of patients and their caretakers and share information in a positive yet honest way. When taking notes for patient records and medical charts, the ability to communicate written information concisely and comprehensively is essential.

Emotional intelligence skills

Emotional intelligence skills help pediatric oncology nurses manage their own emotions and interpret and respond to the emotions of others. Working with children battling life-threatening illnesses can be an intense emotional challenge. Pediatric oncology nurses spend an exceptional amount of time trying to prevent the worst outcome for patients, but unfortunately, some patients succumb to their disease. Emotional intelligence enables pediatric oncology nurses to grieve personally and with families and then prepare to help the next patient who needs care.

In patient interactions, pediatric oncology nurses assess how children's emotions change day to day and do their best to improve their moods, reduce their anxiety and make them comfortable. When speaking with families, pediatric oncology nurses' empathy allows them to communicate difficult information while remaining sensitive to the family's emotional needs.

Related: Emotional Intelligence Skills You Need in the Workplace: Definition and Examples

Creative skills

When working with children, creativity skills are valuable resources that can transform patient experiences. Pediatric oncology nurses, for instance, can use their imagination to entertain children while providing routine medical care. To keep children occupied, hospitals often provide them with art supplies or art therapy. Pediatric oncology nurses might engage children about their creative projects to strengthen nurse-patient relationships. Sometimes, a particular treatment might distress a child or upset them. Creativity skills empower pediatric oncology nurses to think of individualized solutions that relax a patient and help them receive treatment with less stress and anxiety.

Pediatric oncology nurse requirements

Here are the educational and training requirements for becoming a pediatric oncology nurse:

Education requirements

Becoming a pediatric oncology nurse requires the completion of an associate or bachelor's degree program in nursing. If you already completed a college degree and want to transition into nursing, many schools offer accelerated bachelor's degree programs that take about one year to complete. Although an associate degree takes less time to earn, you might benefit from pursuing a bachelor's degree. Candidates with their bachelor's in nursing can expect greater consideration for competitive openings and higher pay.

License requirements

All candidates who want to become registered nurses must pass the same licensing exam, regardless of the state where they live. Known as the NCLEX, the National Council Licensure Examination asks a minimum of 75 multiple-choice questions on topics like safe and effective care environments, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity and physiological integrity. Designated test centers host the exam and administer it via computer.

Each state specifies any additional licensing requirements. Typically, states conduct a background check, inquire about your drug use history, ensure you're proficient in English and check academic and professional references. If you satisfy the additional requirements, you become licensed to work as a nurse in the state where you took your NCLEX. Some states, however, are members of the Nurse Licensure Compact, which enables you to work in different states with a single license. Always confirm the regulations that affect your nursing license before accepting a position in a different state.

Related: Nursing Certifications: What You Need To Know

Training requirements

While preparing to enter the field, pursue any training focused on oncology, pediatrics or hematology. As you complete your degree, you can request to perform rotations in hospital units or departments within these specializations. You also might find a job as a nursing assistant or an internship in a relevant setting.

For registered nurses who already work in pediatric oncology, the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation offers the Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse credential. Eligible applicants can earn this certification if:

  • They are licensed and active registered nurses.

  • They have worked for two years as a registered nurse out of the previous four years.

  • They have performed 2,000 hours of pediatric hematology oncology work in the previous four years.

  • They have completed 10 hours of continuing education in oncology in the previous three years.

  • They pass a three-hour, multiple-choice test comprising 165 questions.

Continuing education requirements

While working, nurses have to complete their state's continuing education requirements in order to renew their licenses. Typically, continuing education involves completing courses or informational activities. Most registered nurse licenses remain valid for two years at a time.

Pediatric oncology nurse average salary and job outlook

Indeed collects data separately for the roles of pediatrics nurses and oncology nurses. The average salary for a registered pediatrics nurse in the United States is $71,537 per year. For a registered oncology nurse in the United States, the average salary is $61,955 per year. Pay may vary depending on your geographic location, education and professional experience.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) only provides outlook data for the collective field of registered nurses. It predicts employment for the profession to grow 7% between 2019 and 2029. The BLS attributes this faster than average growth to the aging general population requiring more medical services. Since this trend doesn't apply directly to the number of young cancer patients in treatment, pediatric oncology nurses might not experience the same level of growth.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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