How to Become an Oncology Nurse Practitioner

An oncology nurse practitioner or oncology NP works closely with physicians, surgeons, and families to assist cancer patients with treatment. Not only do they play a key role in patient assessment, education, and coordination of care, but they also provide support to both patients and caregivers during treatment and beyond. 

With more and more cancer research becoming available, the role of an oncology nurse practitioner will evolve, but at its core, the occupation will remain patient-centered. The path to becoming an oncology nurse practitioner requires many steps, but once achieved, you may actively seek out positions in this important area of clinical practice.. 

Common Steps to Become an Oncology Nurse Practitioner 

There are a number of common steps in order to obtain certification as an oncology nurse practitioner. Above all, the criteria include a number of educational and clinical practice requirements that are to be completed before becoming certified. 

1. Become a registered nurse. 

To become certified as an oncology nurse practitioner, you must first become a registered nurse (RN). Your RN license must be active during the time you decide to pursue your oncology nurse practitioner career. To obtain your RN license, you have to complete and pass the NCLEX-RN exam, which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

2. Apply to an oncology nurse practitioner program. 

You must pursue an advanced degree for a nurse practitioner, such as a master of science in nursing (MSN). There are some  programs that offer oncology as a concentration. To ensure that the program is providing you with the highest level of standards and ethics in the field, verify that your program is accredited by the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). 

3. Apply to take the oncology nursing exam. 

Once you’ve completed the necessary educational and clinical experience steps to become an oncology nurse practitioner, you can pursue the oncology nurse exam administered by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC).

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Should I Become an Oncology Nurse Practitioner?

Oncology NPs are drawn to the profession for different reasons. For some, a personal experience with a cancer patient is how they learned about the job. Others may be drawn to the field because of their compassion and empathy for people. And if you’re highly ambitious, you may be motivated to become an oncology NP because of the positive impact you can help to make in a field that’s not only necessary but is constantly evolving when it comes to research, drugs, interventions and treatment. 

Still, cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide. The National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be more than 1.8 million new cancer cases in the U.S. in 2020 alone. 

Oncology nurse practitioners have many responsibilities that not only include providing physical support to patients, but psychological support as well. If you feel comfortable with this and with educating patients and their families on relevant topics, then this career may be a good fit for you. 

Oncology nurse practitioners can work in a variety of settings such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, cancer treatments centers and even patients’ homes. No matter what your career goals are, find an accredited graduate NP program that will prepare you for practice through didactic and clinical courses in oncology. 

Oncology Nurse Certification 

There are a variety of certifications that the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) offers. The Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP) certification in particular, ensures that you have gained and mastered the knowledge needed for oncology nursing and are ready to provide high-quality care as an NP. 

Eligibility requirements are as follows

  • An active license as a Registered Nurse (RN)
  • A minimum of two years of experience as an RN within four years prior to the application
  • A minimum of 2,000 hours of adult oncology nursing practice within four years prior to application.
  • A completed minimum of 10 contact hours of nursing continuing education in oncology nursing.

Testing dates for the certification exam differ depending on whether you are testing internationally or in the U.S. Pricing for the test also varies. For example, if you are a member of the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses, certification testing will cost you $296. If you are a nonmember, the fee jumps to $416. To learn more, visit the ONCC website.  

Oncology NP Resources

There are numerous resources available to professionals or those interested in becoming an oncology nurse practitioner that may help you learn more about the practice, expand your network and give you the opportunity to compete for various roles in the field. 

  • The ONCC has their very own resource center, that provides information regarding testing, certification, renewal, educational guidance, and more. 
  • The Oncology Nursing Society is a national organization that provides a sense of community for students, scientists, nurses and other professionals in oncology practice. This organization gives its members—some 35,000 members—access to resources, current events and news, as a well as the opportunity to develop their network. 
  • The Advanced Nurse Practitioner Society for Hematology and Oncology (APSHO). Once you join APSHO, you gain access to continuing education resources and learn about how collaborative practice can change the field for the better.  

Educators in the field may be particularly interested in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, which has been around for 37 years. NPs might also find it useful. This publication contains articles that cover the latest developments in clinical oncology research, helping NPs and other professionals to stay current. 

Nursing Licensure


Below are frequently asked questions as it relates to the career path of oncology nursing:

What is an Oncology Nurse?

An oncology nurse is a nurse that provides optimal care for people with all types of cancer. They do this by administering treatment, medication, education and assistance to the patients that they work with. Oncology nurses have completed the level of education needed to retain their certification by sitting for an exam administered by the ONCC. With their certification, it is expected that they carry out their practice to the highest level of standards and ethics. 

What Does an Oncology Nurse Practitioner Do?

Direct patient care is at the forefront of the duties of oncology nurse practitioners. They work to treat cancer patients and assist them to varying degrees, depending on their needs. Their duties may be related to screening, research, management, cancer prevention, education, administration and much more.

It is no question that oncology nurse practitioners juggle plenty of responsibilities. They work with new patients and address both individuals and families. While the work of an oncology nurse practitioner can be rewarding, juggling these responsibilities may not be suitable for everyone. Whether or not the demands of the job can be handled depends on the individual. 

How much does an Oncology Nurse Practitioner Make?

While there is no reported salary for an oncology nurse practitioner, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does report on nurse practitioner salaries and outlooks. The median annual pay for nurse practitioners in 2019 was $115,800. Pay varies by employer, location, number of years of experience, specialization and a host of other factors. For example, the annual salary for a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner, a NP that works with children with cancer, will differ from that of an oncology nurse. 

To view more NP salary data and how it compares other nursing positions, visit our Nurse Salary page.

Information on this page was last retrieved in June 2020.