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
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).