Nursing can be an emotional balancing act. On one hand, you've got to provide your patients with caring, empathetic support, but you also need enough emotional distance to maintain your professionalism when patients don't recover. That's especially important in pediatric oncology nursing, where your patients are children with life-threatening conditions. Being supportive to the kids and their families is an important part of the job, but your clinical duties are equally important.
A cancer patient's course of care can be long and complicated, and it can involve a large number of doctors and other practitioners. If you're an oncology nurse, part of your job is to provide the kids with some continuity of care. Over time, they might receive chemotherapy from a pediatric oncologist, radiation therapy from a radiation oncologist and a bone-marrow transplant from a hematologist -- but your patients will usually see the same group of nurses. That familiarity is reassuring to the patients and their parents, and it also gives you the opportunity to act as a patient's advocate. If patients are not responding to treatment, or if they're experiencing adverse effects, you'll notice and inform the physicians.
You'll record each patient's vital signs, weight and physical condition when they come to the hospital, and note any significant changes for the doctors' information. You'll explain upcoming tests or procedures to the children and their parents, and make sure that the necessary permissions are signed and in the file. You'll administer medications as necessary; warn the doctors of unusually high pain levels or other worrisome symptoms; and assist with treatments, such as chemotherapy. If the children need anti-nausea medication or a special diet to combat treatment-related loss of appetite, you'll take care of that as well.
Pain, illness and unfamiliar surroundings can be frightening and disorienting for children. Helping them cope with their condition and their treatment is a large part of your job. It's also a very stressful time for parents, siblings and the extended family, and they'll also rely on you to show strength and help them keep their spirits up. It's important not to sugar-coat a child's condition, especially when treatment is not going well, but a child and the family need all the hope you can legitimately offer. When treatments fail, you'll also have to help them with the decision to switch to palliative or hospice care.
To practice in pediatric oncology, you'll need to hold an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing and have a current nursing license from your state. Professional certification isn't required to work in pediatric oncology, but it's a definite asset. You can earn certification as a pediatric oncology nurse or pediatric hematology nurse by passing a certification exam from the Oncology Nurses Certification Corporation. To be eligible, you must have at least one year of work experience as an RN; a minimum of 1,000 hours in pediatric oncology nursing; and either a college-level course in oncology nursing or 10 contact hours of continuing education in the specialty.
- Minority Nurse: Careers in Pediatric Oncology Nursing
- Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation: Patients and Families
- Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine: Role of the Oncology Nurse
- St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: An Invitation for New Nurse Graduates
- Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses: Why Choose Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nursing?
- Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation: Eligibility Criteria for Initial Certification
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.