There are few experiences in life as meaningful as guiding a patient through cancer, and there are few professionals better equipped to do so than a nurse in oncology. 

Oncology travel nurses in particular may sidestep the burnout that might come with caring for a cancer patient with a prolonged hospital stay and bring fresh energy to a person’s life—all while soaking up the diversity of experiences that come with travel nursing, regardless of the specialty.

Whether you’re just out of nursing school or searching for a new niche, here’s how to become an oncology nurse—and why its rewards might be precisely what you’re looking for.

Introduction: Embracing Oncology Nursing as a Travel Nurse

Travel nurses play a vital role in healthcare by filling the void of both temporary and permanent nursing shortages across the country—a fact you may be more than familiar with. Given that an estimated two million U.S. residents are diagnosed with cancer annually, oncology travel nurses are especially essential. 

But what is an oncology travel nurse, exactly? And how might this position suit your professional goals and answer your passion for traveling?

Understanding the Role of an Oncology Nurse in Travel Nursing

Oncology travel nurses are registered nurses who typically serve temporary, thirteen-week assignments in facilities ranging from outpatient infusion centers to hospitals. They might step in to cover for an oncology nurse on vacation or address the need for nurses when a site sees an escalation in oncology patients. 

Depending on your qualifications—and whether you’re certified in adult or pediatric oncology (or both)—an average workday may entail:

  • Monitoring patients labs/vitals and symptom management 
  • Accessing and caring for port-a-caths and central lines 
  • Administering chemotherapy and monitoring for side effects 
  • Implementing and educating care team and visitors on chemo precautions
  • Helping patients navigate their symptoms
  • Collaborating with a patient’s healthcare team 
  • Providing education and emotional support to patients and their families
  • Proper charting and documentation in the patients’ medical records 

The specialized care oncology nurses offer also requires them to stay in the know about the newest discoveries in the field of cancer, our evolving understanding of the disease, and the most cutting-edge radiation and surgical treatments available.

Adult vs Pediatric Oncology Travel Nursing 

As you probably already know, there are often substantial differences between treating adults and pediatric patients. The same holds true in oncology travel nursing. Let’s explore.

Pediatric Oncology Nursing

Pediatric oncology nursing may have its pluses—primarily the fact that, according to the American Cancer Society, children may be more responsive to cancer treatments (if ever there’s a silver lining to the profession). The most prevalent cancers in children also differ from those of adults and include:

  • Central nervous system (CNS) tumors
  • Brain tumors
  • Different forms of leukemia
  • Lymphomas

Accordingly, the medications and procedures used to treat children with cancer differ from adults.

Children in hospitals, especially those spending extended periods, often grasp more than we realize. While they may not fully comprehend what’s happening in their bodies, they strongly sense and express their symptoms. Caring for pediatric oncology patients requires an expert knowledge of pediatric stages of development, cultural competence, sensitivity in communication with patients and their families, all while practicing patience and compassion.

Adult Oncology Nursing

Adult oncology nursing, like pediatric oncology nursing, has its own challenges—not least of which, that the fatality rate of cancer is highest in older adults.

It’s also important to bear in mind that adults generally have more comorbidities than children including:

  • Diabetes
  • COPD
  • CHF
  • Atherosclerosis/hypertension

Preparing for Success: Essential Skills for Oncology Travel Nursing

Whether you land an assignment in a hospice center or a children’s cancer hospital, working as an oncology nurse (travel and otherwise) requires:

  • Obtaining a postsecondary degree – To become a registered nurse, you must first successfully complete a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN).
  • Gaining licensure – Your next step? Receiving licensure as a registered nurse by passing the NCLEX-RN—an exam that assesses your competence and knowledge. 
  • Acquiring experience in oncology – Treating patients with cancer is unique from other illnesses, injuries, and emergencies—mainly in terms of specialized treatments, procedures, and, at times, outcomes. To this end, RNs must obtain experience specifically in oncology.
  • Attaining OCN certification – Once you’ve completed two years of work as an RN and a minimum of 2,000 clinical hours in oncology, you’re qualified to work toward getting certified as an oncology certified nurse (OCN). 
  • Securing additional certifications – Additional certifications may be required depending on the age of the patients you work with, the types of cancer you’d like to treat, and the procedures and treatment you expect to perform. 

Earning certification in pediatric oncology nursing, for example, will enable you to work with children and adolescents, while a blood and marrow transplant nurse will provide you with the skills you need to manage transplants.

Other certifications you may want to consider are chemotherapy certification (the golden ticket for treating both children and adult cancer patients) and PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line certification. These two credentials not only indicate dedication to your profession but may also help you stand out in a pool of applicants.,

Here’s another tip to keep in mind to help ensure your success: An oncology travel nurse ought to have the capacity to adjust to new environments quickly and collaborate well. Plus, empathy, compassion, and superb communication skills are necessary for leading patients and their loved ones through the emotional rigors of a cancer diagnosis and its treatment. 

Navigating Different Oncology Specialties as a Travel Nurse

Travel nursing may be hugely appealing to those who thrive in a fast-paced, ever-changing lifestyle. Oncology travel nursing takes this to the next level due to the sheer number of cancers that are diagnosed each year and the number of specializations available to a nurse in oncology, including: 

  • Surgical oncology
  • Genetic counseling
  • Hematology
  • Bone marrow transplant

What does this mean to those—perhaps even you—who ask how to become an oncology nurse? 

It means you can select a specialty and spend your career, or at least a portion of it, honing and utilizing your specialized skills while caring for patients while enjoying the adventure that comes with taking  travel nursing assignments across the country. Whatever oncology specialty you choose, Host Healthcare will help guide you to the placement that is right for you and where there are patients that will surely benefit from your expertise.

Adapting to New Environments: Challenges and Strategies

As thrilling as travel nursing may be, it’s not without challenges. Oncology certainly comes with its own set of challenges. But every RN has their own gift to offer the world, and maybe you are just that person who can share your gifts to those who need it the most, oncology patients and their families. 

With this in mind, consider the challenges you may confront—and the strategies you’ll employ—before stepping foot on a flight to a new assignment:

  • Feelings of isolation – You might find yourself in a cancer facility where the permanent staff—healthcare colleagues who have known each other for some time—share camaraderie…and leave you out of the equation. To avoid this and obtain the emotional support you need to cope with both traveling and treating cancer patients, consider networking with other travel nurses in your assigned area.
  • Dealing with the “experience curve” – You may be well-versed in intravenous infusions and patient education, but every new facility may have its own unique set of protocols, including new technology and foreign (at least to you) procedures. There are two helpful ways to address this: By finding a nursing mentor to pilot you through the basics, and by conducting your research on the health center you’ll be entering prior to your start date.

Building Rapport with Oncology Patients on Your Assignments

Another challenge oncology travel nurses face? Bonding with patients. Long-term assignments give you the benefit of time to build a relationship, while travel assignments propel nurses to expedite this connection. 

To accomplish this, you may want to: 

  • “Personalize” the patient – As an oncology nurse, you play a significant role in your patient’s cancer treatment. In fact, studies indicate that a harmonious rapport between patients and nurses can enhance patient outcomes. So, letting your patient know that you see them outside of their disease is imperative. Ask about their hobbies, inquire about their families, and, of course, be a soothing presence by speaking supportively and compassionately.
  • Adopt the “five E’s of communication” – Oncology patients tend to view their nurses as their biggest advocates—in part because nurses function as the liaison between physicians and patients. To facilitate this relationship, you may want to embrace “the five E’s” of communication:
  • Engage with your patient
  • Elicit your patient’s worries
  • Educate
  • Acknowledge (and accept) your patient’s emotions 
  • Enlist an alliance between your patient and their caregiving team—and honor your role as your patient’s first point of contact

Managing Oncology Nursing Resources on the Move

There are several ways to stay grounded (and do the best job possible) as you practice as an oncology nurse away from your home base. These may include:

  • Reviewing the patient’s medical record (to not only grasp your patient’s disease better but also to ensure you two are on the same page)
  • Doing your homework by familiarizing yourself with each new facility’s procedures and policies
  • Remaining involved in the field of oncology by listening to podcasts, reading up on the newest studies and information, and networking with other nurses and healthcare professionals

Self-Care and Wellness: Balancing Travel Nursing in Oncology

High mortality rates, gravely ill patients, grieving family members, a poor prognosis—all can be emotionally taxing on an oncology nurse, particularly those who are on assignment and away from their families and support systems. In fact, research demonstrates that oncology nurses have the highest rate of burnout.

Fortunately, there are several ways to maintain your energy, work-life balance, and love for your profession, such as prioritizing:

  • Sound sleep
  • Nutrition and hydration
  • Sufficient exercise (that goes beyond a healthcare center’s stairwells!)
  • Healthy fun  
  • Social connections outside of work

Above all, be sure to consistently take your emotional temperature, which is all too easy to overlook when you’re caring for others. Therapy, yoga, or even a night out on the town with your new colleagues may help rejuvenate you and empower you to provide superb care to your patients.

Find Professional Growth Opportunities in Oncology Travel Nursing with Host Healthcare

Oncology nursing is one of the most admirable positions in the healthcare profession. While its challenges may seem formidable, knowing that you’re seeing a patient through an exceptionally challenging era offers unspeakable rewards that may linger for a lifetime.

Plus, with professional growth opportunities available—from earning additional certifications to enhancing your oncology RN resume with prestigious travel assignments—you might discover that becoming a travel nurse in oncology satisfies both your personal and professional goals.

Consider Host Healthcare your ride there. We pair our travel nurses with leading recruiters who will match you to the facilities and cities that suit your desires and experience. With warm, 24/7 support and dependable housing assistance, we aim to make each of your assignments as comfortable as possible.

Make a lasting difference in the lives of others while building the life and career you deserve with Host Healthcare. Apply now to get started!



Guerrero, Jessie. “Healing Horizons: Exploring the Benefits and Challenges of Oncology Travel Nursing.” Webenalysis, Webenalysis, 29 Nov. 2023, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023.

“Study Projects Nursing Shortage Crisis Will Continue without Concerted Action: AHA News.” American Hospital Association | AHA News, 13 Apr. 2023, Accessed 27 Nov. 2023. 

“Common Cancer Sites – Cancer Stat Facts.” SEER, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023. 

Rioux, Lisa. “Travel Nurses Bring Beneficial and Important Skills for Patient Care.” ONS Voice, 19 Dec. 2023, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023.

“Oncology Nurse Career Overview.” NurseJournal, 27 June 2022, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023.

“The Oncology Nursing Specialty.” ONS, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023. 

“What Are the Differences between Cancers in Adults and Children?” American Cancer Society, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023. 

“Childhood Cancers.” National Cancer Institute, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023. 

“Cancer Mortality by Age.” Cancer Research UK, 8 June 2022, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023. 

Chemotherapy Certification for Nurses or RNS – Learn.Org, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023. 

“Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC) Line.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 June 2023, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023. 

“What Is an Oncology Nurse? And How to Become One.” Coursera, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023. 

“What Are Some of the Challenges a Traveling Nurse Faces?” Healthcare Weekly, 22 Mar. 2023, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023. 

Koppel, Paula D., et al. “Exploring Nurse and Patient Experiences of Developing Rapport During Oncology Ambulatory Care Videoconferencing Visits: Qualitative Descriptive Study.” Journal of Medical Internet Research, vol. 24, no. 9, Sept. 2022, p. e39920. Accessed 19 Dec. 2023. 

Jkim. “How to Talk About Cancer: A Communication Guide for Cancer Patients, Providers, and Loved Ones – Nursing@Georgetown.” GU-MSN, 9 Nov. 2021, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023. 

“Pearls for Practice: Tips for New Oncology Nurses | Cancer Nursing Today.” Cancer Nursing Today, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023. 

Sharma, Prerana, and Rajesh Sharma. “Burnout in Oncology Nurses.” Journal of Clinical Oncology, vol. 41, no. 16_suppl, June 2023, p. e23000. Accessed 19 Dec. 2023.