Complete Guide to the Oncology Nurse Practitioner (ONP) Specialty

Last Updated/Verified: Mar 16, 2024

Definition: What Is an Oncology Nurse Practitioner?

An Oncology Nurse Practitioner (ONP) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who specializes in providing comprehensive care to patients with cancer. ONPs play a crucial role in the management and treatment of cancer patients throughout their journey, from diagnosis and treatment planning to survivorship and end-of-life care. They work collaboratively with oncologists, other healthcare professionals, and patients to deliver holistic care that addresses the physical, emotional, and psychological needs of individuals and their families.

Scope of Practice

The scope of practice for oncology nurse practitioners is diverse and spans various stages of cancer care. ONPs are skilled in:

  • Conducting patient assessments
  • Interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Participating in treatment planning discussions
  • Providing education about cancer diagnoses and treatment options, and potential side effects
  • Assisting with symptom management
  • Monitoring for disease progression and treatment response
  • Providing emotional support to patients and their families

Skills & Abilities

Oncology nurse practitioners possess a unique skill set tailored to the complexities of cancer care. They excel in conducting comprehensive patient assessments, recognizing subtle changes in symptoms, and coordinating multi-disciplinary care teams. ONPs are proficient in explaining treatment options, potential side effects, and providing patients with the information they need to make informed decisions. Their compassionate communication skills are crucial in supporting patients and their families throughout their cancer journey.

Oncology Nurse Practitioner Certification & Subspecialties

To become a certified oncology nurse practitioner, individuals typically need to complete a Master’s or Doctoral level nursing program with a specialization in oncology. After obtaining their advanced degree, aspiring ONPs can seek certification through organizations like the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC).

Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP) Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN)
OrganizationOncology Nursing Certification CorporationOncology Nursing Certification Corporation
Cost$296 for members
$416 for nonmembers
$300 for members
$420 for nonmembers
Number of Questions165165
Eligibility RequirementsCurrent and active RN license in the U.S., its territories or Canada

Graduate degree from an accredited nurse practitioner program with a concentration in oncology, adult primary or acute care, family, gerontology, or women's health

500 supervised clinical hours as an adult oncology NP if graduated from an oncology NP program or 1,000 hours of practice if graduated from NP program focused on adult primary or acute care, family across the lifespan, gerontology, or women's health – within the last five years after graduation

One graduate-level oncology course of two credits or 30 continuing education hours in oncology within the last five years
Active RN License

A minimum of 2,000 hours of adult oncology nursing practice within the four years (48 months) prior to application

A minimum of two years (24 months) of experience as an RN within the four years (48 months) prior to application.

Completed a minimum of 10 contact hours of nursing continuing education in oncology or an academic elective in oncology nursing within the three years (36 months) prior to application.

While oncology itself is a specialized field, ONPs may choose to further specialize in more specific areas such as:

  • Pediatric oncology
  • Adult oncology
  • Hematologic malignancies
  • Palliative care

Becoming an Oncology Nurse Practitioner

Becoming an oncology nurse practitioner involves a comprehensive educational journey. Aspiring ONPs typically start with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, gain experience as registered nurses, and then pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree with a specialization in oncology. Advanced programs provide specialized knowledge in cancer care principles, advanced assessment techniques, and oncology treatment modalities. After completing their education, individuals can seek certification in relevant areas and state licensure as a nurse practitioner specializing in oncology.

Oncology Nurse Practitioner Employment Opportunities

Oncology nurse practitioners find employment opportunities in various healthcare settings that focus on cancer care. These settings include:

  • Oncology clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Cancer treatment centers
  • Academic medical centers
  • Hospice organizations

Oncology Nurse Practitioner Salaries

Salaries for oncology nurse practitioners can vary based on factors such as geographic location, years of experience, education level, and the specific healthcare setting. As of 2023, the median annual wage for oncology nurse practitioners was around $131,543. Given the specialized nature of oncology care and the importance of their role in cancer treatment, ONPs may command competitive salaries.