In the most general terms, a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner works with pediatric patients (under the age of 18 and sometimes up to age 21) who are undergoing treatment for some type of cancer. What you will find in this article is a general description of what work would be like for an average pediatric oncology nurse practitioner.
Pediatric oncology nurse practitioners work with a pediatric population, meaning most patients are under the age of 18, although some may be up to 21 years old. The patients these nurses work with are suffering from some form of cancer, but may be in any stage of their treatment, from diagnosis to remission. As with any pediatric nursing position, pediatric oncology nurse practitioners must also be prepared to interact with their patients’ parents or legal guardians closely. Understandably, a pediatric oncology ward can be an emotionally trying place, so parents are not always easy to communicate with and often need comforting and extreme empathy.
Most pediatric oncology nurse practitioners work at a hospital in a specialized pediatric oncology unit. The hospital may be a children’s hospital or hospital with a general patient population that has a dedicated wing for children’s cancers.
While we will address the emotional rigor of this type of work, there is also a good deal of clinical rigor on a day to day basis when working as a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner. Because oncology covers every type of cancer, and no cancer behaves exactly like another, a typical day can involve a huge array of treatment protocols. Pediatric oncology nurse practitioners must therefore make it their job to stay educated about treatment protocols and to stay organized when it comes to their patients. On a daily basis, nurses will have to deal with patients that require surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, while recovering patients may have physical therapy, or other treatments to help aid recovery. While nurse practitioners will not lead children in physical therapy, the responsibility to make sure that the patient’s various appointments and treatments are scheduled and organized may fall to them. As with most any nurse practitioner role, pediatric oncology NP’s will also be responsible for reviewing and updating charts for each of their patients.
Especially when it comes to chemotherapy, schedules can be quite regimented, with certain medications needing to start, stop, and overlap and certain times. The pace of a pediatric oncology unit is not as fast as that of, for example, an Emergency Room, but there can still be time pressures involved.
Working in a pediatric oncology unit can also be somewhat physically demanding on a day to day basis. Children suffering from cancer may not have the energy or physical strength to complete many, or any, activities by themselves. Nurse practitioners will have to help coordinate feeding, bathing, and personal care and at times the responsibility for these duties will fall to the nurse practitioner herself. Depending on the age and size of the child, this can be physical, exhausting work.
The emotional challenges of working with young cancer patients should be apparent, and do come as part of the everyday life of a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner. However, the challenges may not be a as steep as they once were. Modern medicine has made huge strides, particularly in some of the most common childhood cancers, such as leukemia, and survival rates are much higher than they once were. Still, recovery is not easy and nurse practitioners who choose this role must be able to hold on to those joyful moments where they are able to offer comfort and treatment, and let go the pain of patients they may eventually lose.
Pediatric oncology is a very specialized role for a nurse practitioner and many nurses learn on the job. However, there are a few prestigious nursing programs that offer courses and even certification in this particular specialty.
The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing offers a pediatric oncology concentration as part of their pediatric acute care nurse practitioner program.
The Columbia University School of Nursing offers a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner program as part of the oncology nurse practitioner course of study, which prepares students for certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the National Certification Board of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and Nurses.
For nurses that are unable to attend a program with a pediatric oncology focus, it is possible to work towards credentialing as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and then gain experience in oncology during one’s clinical hours.