Radiation oncology uses targeted, carefully calculated doses of radiation to attack cancerous cells and interfere with their ability to survive and reproduce. A radiation oncologist is the physician who oversees treatment, which is carried out by radiation therapists and other caregivers. Most of these professionals are trained to focus on the technology, but radiation oncology nurse focuses on the patient. There is no formal certification in radiation oncology, but training and recognition are available.
Radiation oncology is a fine balancing act. The radiation used -- whether it's beams of ionizing radiation, or radioactive substances implanted near the tumor -- will damage healthy tissues as well as cancerous tumors. The goal is to cause maximum disruption to cancer cells, while minimizing the impact on healthy tissues. Radiation oncology nurses explain this process to patients before treatment, explaining how it will feel and the effects. They provide coaching and instruction on how to deal with the aftereffects to both the patient and patient's family. They also assess the patient's condition, and alert physicians to any danger signs.
Radiation Oncology Certificate
The Oncology Nursing Society offers a certificate program in radiation oncology nursing. It's available online, and counts for 15 contact hours of continuing education for a registered nurse. Nurses who complete this self-paced course, and earn a score of at least 80 percent on the end-of-course examination, receive a "certificate of added qualification" from the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation or ONCC. The course provides nurses with the intermediate-level instruction in patient management, the effects of radiation therapy and the emotional and psychological needs of the patient. Nurses who plan to work in oncology on a permanent basis should also consider formal certification as oncology nurses.
Oncology Nursing Certification
The ONCC's oncology certified nurse credential, or OCN, is open to currently-licensed registered nurses who have practiced for at least one of the three preceding years. They must be able to document at least 1,000 hours of oncology nursing over the previous 30 months, and a minimum of 10 contact hours of continuing education in oncology nursing during the previous three years. The radiation oncology certificate program fulfills that requirement. Candidates must pass the ONCC's certification exam. The pediatric version of that certification, the CPHON or certified pediatric hematology-oncology nurse, is similar but requires 1,000 hours of pediatric oncology nursing. Similar credentials are available for nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates strong employment prospects for registered nurses, with a projected 26 percent employment growth between 2010 and 2020. That's almost double the 14 percent average for all occupations. Although the bureau doesn't provide separate figures for oncology nurses, their employment picture should also be highly favorable. Many forms of cancer become more prevalent with age, and the demographically significant baby boom generation is entering its retirement years over the coming decade.