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soon-to-be accelerated BSN grad needs advice on becoming an onc nurse after graduation

  • 1.  soon-to-be accelerated BSN grad needs advice on becoming an onc nurse after graduation

    Posted 09-27-2019 18:39
    Hi everyone,
    I'm currently in the accelerated BSN program at the University of Pennsylvania for students who hold previous degrees (I have a BS in physics and an MS in biomedical engineering).  I will be graduating in December 2019 and I want to become an oncology nurse.  I previously have experience as a breast cancer Clinical Research Coordinator and have completed a few of my clinical rotations on oncology units, and know that oncology nursing is the right fit for me.

    I was wondering if anyone would be willing to share what it's like to work as an onc nurse in whatever state you work in.  My husband and I know that we will be leaving PA, but are trying to figure out where we want to settle back down.  Also, could you shed light on the availability of jobs/nurse residencies in onc nursing for new grads in your states?

    Thanks so much!

    ~Kristin Mainzer

    Kristin Mainzer, MS

  • 2.  RE: soon-to-be accelerated BSN grad needs advice on becoming an onc nurse after graduation

    Posted 09-27-2019 21:15
    Hi Kristin,

    I'm thrilled to know you are coming into the specialty! I've been an outpatient oncology nurse for over 30 years and have worked for three different organizations all in south- eastern Virginia.

    I recently returned to work for Virginia Oncology Associates, an affiliate of US Oncology. I say returned because the first 17 years of my oncology career, those all-so-important bedrock years, were spent working for this same organization's core group of medical oncologists when they were in private practice and owned their practice. Towards the end of my tenure there, they sold the practice in exchange for organized management, went through two such organizations before settling with US Oncology. I give credit to those core providers and their nurses for "raising me professionally." From them I learned the science of oncology, the art and heart of nursing folks in the most vulnerable time of their lives, and how to think critically and holistically in all my patient and family interactions. These providers wanted their nurses to think, to discern and to fully participate in caring for the patients. I am the oncology nurse I am today because of the investment those providers and my nurse mentors made in me.

    I left VOA during turbulent years of transition when the providers were struggling with letting go of management responsibilities, which meant disengaging from their "family atmospheric" ways. I guess they felt this was necessary so that we as employees would accept the new management. At any rate, I felt like I had outgrown what VOA had to offer me as a nurse and I left seeking new experiences.

    I spent the next 13 years working for a hospital-based outpatient cancer treatment center, Riverside Cancer Infusion Center (Riverside Regional Medical Center). Here I was able to provide nursing leadership as the organization opened three outpatient centers in less than 12 months. We were extremely fortunate to have the guidance and vision of a physician and wife duo, both very well respected in the medical oncology community on the Peninsula, to set the tone for oncology excellence, holistic/integrated patient and family care, strong nursing leadership and engagement, and the highest level of professionalism. Once again I found myself under the influence of the most dynamic physician and nursing mentors.

    I spent the last 18 months working for Massey Cancer Center, a department of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond VA. I went to VCU because it is a large academic health system with a well-established comprehensive cancer program, holds a Magnet designation and is affiliated with the National Cancer Institute's research program. I had the awesome opportunity to work directly with medical oncology fellows and with Masseyl's melanoma specialist in the Dalton Ambulatory Clinic (Massey's outpatient cancer center). Up until this point in time I had worked exclusively in the infusion center but now in an academic setting I was able to participate in acclimating fellows to nursing partnerships. As well, since the standard of care for melanoma is immune therapy, I was able to gain valuable expertise in this novel treatment modality.

    I returned to VOA one month ago to work within their newly developed, and growing, telehealth nursing services department. Triage services in the outpatient oncology setting is a crucial element in 21st century comprehensive cancer programs. My goal is to ensure the triage program is evidence-based, enables the oncology nurses to function to the highest level of their credentials and clinical expertise, is governed by nursing, and improves the quality of the care and experiences of our patients and families.

    In southeastern Virginia, you have Bon Secours, Sentara, Riverside, and Virignia Oncology. In northern and central Virginia you have University of Virginia, additional VIrginia Oncology affiliates, and Inova. In southwest Virginia you have Carilion and Sentara and a few other outfits. I have worked for private practice, academic health systems and hospital health systems and have gained valuable experience in all of these settings. As far as onboarding, healthcare organizations just continue to struggle with doing tnis successfully. As veteran oncology nurses begin to retire, the onus is on us to create viable, meaningful comprehensive onboarding programs for new graduates because as much as we used to prefer to hire only experienced nurses directly into specialties, new graduates are the face of the future. I am a vocal advocate for the work that needs to be done and hope to partner with my organization to build a reputable onboarding program that becomes standard practice in outpatient setting like ours.

    I hope this has been helpful to you. Welcome to our world!


    Robin Atkins RN OCN
    Medical Oncology
    Fellows Clinic
    Melanoma Clinic
    VCU Health/Massey Cancer Center

  • 3.  RE: soon-to-be accelerated BSN grad needs advice on becoming an onc nurse after graduation

    Posted 10-04-2019 17:51
    Hi Robin,
    Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply!  It was really interesting to read about your various career moves, you shared some very useful perspective.
    Thanks for the encouragement!

    Kristin Mainzer, MS

    Kristin Mainzer
    Ardmore PA

  • 4.  RE: soon-to-be accelerated BSN grad needs advice on becoming an onc nurse after graduation

    Posted 09-29-2019 08:39
    It sounds like you have a great resume, and it will compare favorably to others who are applying.  I can't tell what area you are from, but my suggestion is that you start in an academic center in an inpatient oncology unit.  This will give your breadth of experience as well as access to best practices. It takes about 5 years of inpatient nursing before you really internalize that nursing is a matter of life and death.  I would suggest you start a masters program (one that leads to a PhD) after being a new nurse for a few years.  Take your time with this, but even if you only take a few courses a year, you will be glad you did. You will be an enormous asset to the nursing profession - good luck!

    Karolyn Varner RN MSN
    Office Practice Nurse
    Lebanon NJ

  • 5.  RE: soon-to-be accelerated BSN grad needs advice on becoming an onc nurse after graduation

    Posted 10-04-2019 17:56
    Hi Karolyn,
    Thank you very much for your reply.  While I know that I ultimately want to work in outpatient onc, you raise a great point regarding getting experience in inpatient onc beyond what I received during my clinical rotation in the spring.  I will definitely keep that in mind when applying for jobs.

    Thanks again!

    Kristin Mainzer
    Ardmore PA

  • 6.  RE: soon-to-be accelerated BSN grad needs advice on becoming an onc nurse after graduation

    Posted 09-29-2019 16:12
    Hi Kristin,

    In Washington, DC, there is an oncology residency program at the hospital I work at, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. We have two inpatient oncology nurses and typically have several slots for our residency for new grads which are offered 2-3x/year. We have several outpatient oncology nurse opportunities as well but we don't typically encourage new grads without inpatient oncology experience to apply. I myself started off in an inpatient oncology residency at MedStar Washington Hospital Center (also in Washington, DC) on a surgical oncology floor and that was a very good starting point for my oncology nursing career.  Good luck in your search!

    Kristin Ferguson DNP, RN, OCN
    Clinical Operations Manager/Nurse Manager III
    Washington DC

  • 7.  RE: soon-to-be accelerated BSN grad needs advice on becoming an onc nurse after graduation

    Posted 10-04-2019 17:58
    Hi Kristin,
    Thanks so much for your reply!  Your perspective on starting as an inpatient onc nurse is very helpful as I start to think about the job search.  I will keep that in mind as I look.
    Thanks again!

    Kristin Mainzer, MS

  • 8.  RE: soon-to-be accelerated BSN grad needs advice on becoming an onc nurse after graduation

    Posted 10-07-2019 13:06

    Hi Kristin,
    I am also a graduate of a Philadelphia accelerated BSN program for second degree students​ (Jefferson '04). I would agree with Karolyn that gaining nursing experience as a floor nurse is invaluable. I first worked on a med surg-oncology floor for 3 years before moving onto various outpatient positions (private med onc office chemo nurse, oncology clinical trial nurse, oncology nurse navigator, and now oncology nurse navigator manager.) I learn from each experience and take that knowledge with me into each position but I always fall back on my days on the floor. Many hospitals, including HUP, Jefferson, and Fox Chase Cancer Center, offer transition type programs for new grads entering right into inpatient oncology. Good luck in your career as a nurse!
    Kind regards,

    Caryn Vadseth

    Caryn M. Vadseth, BSN, RN, OCN, ONN-CG(T)
    Oncology Navigation Nurse Manager
    Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center
    Thomas Jefferson University

  • 9.  RE: soon-to-be accelerated BSN grad needs advice on becoming an onc nurse after graduation

    Posted 10-09-2019 11:29
    Hi Kristin,

    I also agree with the comments below. Being new to the nursing field, you will need a lot of resources and support to be successful. At Duke, we have three inpatient Oncology units (Heme, BMT and solid tumor). They also offer a one year residency program. In addition, there are Core Classes, educational activities and an annual revalidation skills day communicating best practice. I have been here for over 12 years and love every moment of it. It you are interested in additional information or phone conversation, please feel free to contact me.

    Jennifer Frith MSN, RN, OCN, NE-BC

    Clinical Operations Director, Inpatient Oncology and ABMT

    DUMC 3961 Durham NC 27710

    Office:  (919) 668-4370

    Cell: (919) 316-9866

    Fax:  (919) 668-5254

    Jennifer Frith RN BSN
    Durham NC

  • 10.  RE: soon-to-be accelerated BSN grad needs advice on becoming an onc nurse after graduation

    Posted 10-24-2019 14:59
    Edited by Sarah Lewis 10-24-2019 15:01
    Hi Kristin,

    I feel like I've had a similar journey, only sort of in reverse. :)

    I graduated from a nurse diploma program in Lewes, Delaware. I immediately started working for a growing healthcare organization (known for being close to the beach area of Southern Delaware) on an inpatient Medical-Surgical Oncology unit. I was part of the first nurse residency program (there had been one years before, but it was started back up to be a very vigorous program). Best and hardest 6 years of my life, working and learning oncology nursing. About 1 year in, I obtained my chemotherapy/biotherapy administration certification and really started to specialize my education and experience in oncology. My sister, also became a nurse during that time, and she also did the same program and residency which offered her the opportunity to specialize to the cardiovascular OR immediately upon job entry, and she is extremely satisfied with her career as a nurse.

    I also became really involved in shared governance in my organization which opened the doors for me to attend conferences, and work on research/quality improvement projects which helped to increase my satisfaction with my career. We have a clinical ladder program. I also became a mentor/preceptor and helped to provide education to nurse residents and students.

    I then went to the University of Delaware and obtained my BSN with a practicum focus on infection prevention and oncology, which opened me to the world of data and performance improvement. I obtained my OCN within the last two years.

    Within the last year, I switched roles, within the same organization which is now expanding with a free-standing surgical center, ERs, and an additional outpatient cancer center. I am a clinical research coordinator for our main outpatient cancer center and I love what I do!

    I also would love to put in a plug for where I live; Delaware is an amazing place to live (tax-free for starters). There are a lot of opportunities here, and many growing healthcare organizations, which means that there are many job opportunities here, especially for those looking to go into oncology patient care.

    I'm not a recruiter, but if you're interested in hearing more about this specific graduate nurse program (we have attracted BSN graduates from many programs all across the country) or about the area in general, please feel free to reach out to me via email. Delaware is a small state, but I believe it can attract the best and brightest in oncology care because our patients here really are so amazing. I live for serving our oncology patient population here.

    Regardless of where you end up, I wish you luck in all your endeavors. You have chosen an amazing profession.

    Sarah Lewis BSN, RN, OCN
    Registered Nurse IV
    Clinical Research Associate
    Beebe Healthcare
    Lewes, Delaware