Top 5 Nursing Programs in the U.S. for a Career as an Oncology Nurse

About 1.8 million people in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with cancer this year alone, with an estimated 600,000 deaths attributed to the disease. It takes a dedicated team to care for a patient with cancer. An integral member of this team is an oncology nurse.

What Is The Role of the Oncology Nurse?

Oncology nurses work with both solid and blood cancer patients. According to RegisteredNursing.org, oncology nurses wear numerous hats, with duties ranging from medication and treatment management to family support and communication.

First, it’s not only cancer that these nurses may be tasked with treating: if their cancer patient has an acute or chronic illness as a result of their cancer, this will have to be treated as well. Oncology nurses also discuss treatment strategies, provide education, and offer support to patient’s family members. Additionally, their responsibilities extend beyond the clinical expectations and will sometimes include providing end-of-life support and empathy as well.

As briefly summarized by Nurse.org, oncology nurses are charged with the following tasks:

  • cancer education and prevention
  • screening
  • nurse navigation
  • nursing management
  • research
  • direct patient care

They may also work in more specific areas, such as hematology, radiation oncology, surgical oncology, and more.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides data on the occupational outlook for registered nurses as a whole. The verdict? We need nurses.

BLS predicts that the job outlook for registered nurses is better compared to that of other jobs, forecasting a 7% growth rate from 2019 to 2029. This significant growth may be attributable to “an increased emphasis on preventive care; increasing rates of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity; and demand for healthcare services from the baby-boom population, as this group leads longer and more active lives,” BLS theorizes.

There were 3,096,700 registered nurses in 2019; that year, the median salary was $73,300 per year, or $35.24 per hour.

How Do I Become an Oncology Nurse?

If this sounds like the right career for you, there are several paths you can take on your way to becoming a registered nurse:

  • complete a two-year program and obtain an associate’s degree in nursing
  • complete a three-year program to obtain a diploma in nursing
  • complete a four-year college or university program to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing

After graduation you can take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The NCLEX is a requirement no matter what state you plan to practice in. It is used in the United States and Canada.

In order to work in oncology, Nurse.org recommends, “the path is typically to choose a patient population as your focus, with a subspecialty in oncology. For example, some MSN programs in adult or gerontology nursing offer the oncology nurse practitioner subspecialty.”

One way to cultivate a successful career as an oncology nurse is to obtain a certificate. Six certifications are available through the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC):

  • Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP®)
  • Blood and Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse (BMTCN®)
  • Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN®)
  • Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON®)
  • Oncology Certified Nurse (ONC®)

ONCC also offers several options to renew existing certifications:

  • Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist (AOCNS®)
  • Certified Pediatric Oncology Nurse (CPON®)
  • Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse (AOCN®)

In addition to expanding your knowledge, certifications can also benefit you professionally.

“Certification offers personal and professional rewards to nurses. An overwhelming majority of nurses surveyed said certification validates specialty knowledge, enhances professional credibility, and contributes to feelings of personal accomplishment. Certification is often required for advancement to higher levels on the clinical ladder. In some instances, certified nurses receive salary differentials or bonuses. A 2018 Medscape salary survey indicated certified nurses had an average annual income that was $7,000 higher than non-certified nurses,” ONCC notes.

To further expand your knowledge and to specialize in a specific area, you may also consider a master’s degree in nursing.

The Best Nursing Programs, Ranked

With so many options to choose from, here are some of the top-ranked nursing programs in the country.

Best Bachelor’s Programs (2020)

Best College Reviews offers a top 35 list of the best bachelor’s degree programs for nursing. The methodology takes into account earning potential (30%), student satisfaction (25%), affordability (20%), retention data (15%), and acceptance rates (10%). Programs are ranked on a 100-point scale.

Here are the top five from the list:

#5. Binghamton University (Binghamton, N.Y.)

Review highlights: “The program requires 126 credit hours of coursework for degree completion, and this includes prerequisites, general education courses, and the core nursing coursework. … Binghamton also has a Nursing Learning Community for those who are living on campus; this means that students can live with other nursing students.”

#4. The University of Texas Medical Branch (Galveston, Texas)

Review highlights: “Students first complete prerequisite courses before entering the BSN program, and then they complete four additional semesters and 16 nursing-specific topics. Additionally, UT Medical Branch has a new Health Education Center with simulation equipment to help students hone their clinical skills.”

#3. Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.)

Review highlights: “Georgetown University offers a direct-entry Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. In this program, students complete 129 credit hours of coursework with 882 clinical hours of experience. Students in this program can also take part in an honors program in nursing as well as in study abroad opportunities in Dublin, Ireland, and Sydney, Australia.”

#2. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, Mich.)

Review highlights: “This degree includes coursework like Communications, Groups and Teams, Role transition, and Culture of Health. Students can also do a minor in population health in a global text and complete a certificate in trauma-informed practice.”

#1. University of California-Los Angeles (Los Angeles, Calif.)

Review highlights: “During the program, students complete 180 to 216 units of coursework, including classes like Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing; Advanced Leadership and Role Integration; and Human Responses to Critical Illness: Introduction to Critical Care. Aside from classroom work, students can get involved with organizations like Global Action in Nursing, the Foundational for International Medical Relief for Children @ UCLA, and Wellness in Nursing.”

Best Master’s Programs (2021; list compiled in 2020)

U.S. News ranks the top nursing master’s programs in the nation based on the following methodology:

  • quality assessment (0.40)
  • master’s program student selectivity and size (0.1125), including mean undergraduate GPA, acceptance rate, and program size
  • faculty resources (0.2375), including student to faculty ratio, faculty credentials, percentage of faculty with important academic achievements in the nursing field, nursing practice participation, and master’s degree output productivity
  • research activity (0.25), including total research expenditures and average research expenditures per faculty member

Here are the top five from the list:

#5. Emory University (Atlanta, Ga.)

#3 (tie). University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Penn.)

#3 (tie). University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, N.C.)

#2. Duke University (Durham, N.C.)

#1. Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Md.)