A Real Look At The Life As An Oncology Nurse
Lunch is not a given. It's a gift. When you are running around responding to CODE BLUE's there sometimes isn't even time to take a bathroom break during your shift. Life as an oncology nurse is an incredibly demanding and incredibly rewarding profession. You have to be ready to face life and death equally and be able to accept that your best is all you can do. Imagine starting your shift with an emergency and within a half hour, you've lost one of your patients. Her family is present and everything inside you screams for you to stay and help their grieving process in any way possible. But another patient has just been admitted who, though appearing and feeling in relatively fine health, is incredibly ill. You have limited information as part of the reason she is here it to be more accurately diagnosed.
This woman's blood isn't clotting, which means she could bleed excessively unless action is immediately taken. And her white blood cell count is fifteen times what is normal, a problem called "blast crisis." She also has a condition which can cause abnormal heart rhythms. Combining these three problems means the clock is ticking on this poor patient's life and you have a long shift ahead of you. The patient will need potassium for the cardiac condition. To lower the white blood cell count, she will need an oral chemotherapy agent and a bone marrow biopsy to see if it could be leukemia. During all of this, the patient develops a high temperature, and now the risk of infection complicates matters further.
As an oncology nurse, you will forever be dealing with blood products, chemotherapy, IV antibiotics, electrolyte replacements, and fevers. You will become an expert at drawing blood from central lines and at various styles of suctioning so your patients don't gurgle. You will get to know your patients personally and do everything you can to make their stay less terrible, whether that be an extra blanket or an ice cream party for the whole corridor. You will be working with some people who are using all their available energy to just breathe. There will be a lot of turning, toileting, feeding, and personal care. You will need to change dressings and know every drug and medication by heart to be ready for complications or side effects. You will need to mask almost all of your negative emotions to be the smiling anchor for these patients to rely on.
Oncology nursing is often a choice for new graduates and a great way to get experience. Someone coming in with a BSN may feel more prepared, but those starting with an AND will have more bedside skills. Remember that you are not only dealing with the patient, but the emotional state of the family and all the visitors. It is not for the faint of heart and it will most certainly take you to the brink of physical and emotional exhaustion, but the lives that you save and the hearts that you touch will be well worth it.