Children undergoing cancer treatment are often cared for by pediatric oncology nurses. These health care professionals understand that children are often scared or confused by the treatment process, and that their parents might struggle with managing their own fears while remaining strong for the sake of the child. Because of this, pediatric oncology nurses typically play a dual role, administering treatment and monitoring patient progress while also providing a support system for children and their families
Qualifications and Requirements
Most facilities require a pediatric oncology nurse to have an undergraduate degree in nursing and a current registered nursing license. At many hospitals, they don’t need specialized training or experience in either pediatrics or cancer care. In fact, many facilities will hire nurses straight out of school and offer hands-on training in chemotherapy and other aspects of cancer treatment. In addition to nursing skills, pediatric nurses need extensive knowledge of child development and the differences between adult and pediatric medicine. For example, children often require lower doses of many medications or might not be able to tolerate some adult medicines or treatments.
A pediatric oncology nurse provides both routine and intensive care. For example, she administers chemotherapy and assists with other cancer treatments, in addition to blood products and transfusions. She might also give pain medication, assessing the child to determine how well the treatment controls the child’s symptoms and if the doctor should adjust the dosage. She also performs day-to-day assessments such as taking temperatures, measuring vital signs and evaluating the child’s overall condition and progress.
Education and Emotional Support
In addition to providing direct medical care, pediatric oncology nurses often play a teaching and support role. Children might be frightened and unable to describe their concerns, questions or symptoms. Nurses must communicate with them in a way that calms their fears and helps them understand what’s happening to them. Nurses also guide parents through the treatment process, offering both moral support and instruction and helping family members understand how to provide care when the child returns home.
To work in a pediatric oncology ward, nurses must prepare themselves for the inevitable possibility that some of their patients will not recover. Seeing someone die so young, in addition to witnessing the grief of heartbroken parents, can lead to considerable emotional stress. Nurses must balance the need to offer compassion and empathy with the need to set healthy emotional boundaries. In addition, because a patient's condition can go downhill at a moment's notice, they must carefully monitor each patient and be ready to provide emergency intervention.