I have done all kinds of nursing: Psych, Peds, Home Health, Long Term Care (LTC), Hospice, Labor and Delivery, and most recently, nurse management. Now transitioning into Radiation Oncology Nursing, I am wondering what approach I should take to learning more about the field. The physician I will be working with primarily focuses on breast cancer. I have read some articles, but I feel like a fish out of water. Should I get a basic text or just follow this Web site and read as much as I can? —Carolyn Rafferty, RN

Well, first let me congratulate you on expanding your career and pursuing a new area of interest in radiation oncology nursing.

Obtaining certification in radiation therapy from the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) would be a great beginning step for you. This is an online course that allows you to work through the modules at your own pace. You could then go back and repeat any modules you need more help on. The ONS Web site has many other online cancer courses including, I believe, one specific to breast cancer, which of course could be helpful as well.

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I see you have outpatient experience; this past experience will help you in caring and assessing this patient population. I will tell you, working side by side with the physician will be invaluable. Ask him to explain and teach you why he is saying and doing things a certain way, become a sponge.

Go in with the physician for consults, on-treatment patient’s visits, and follow-up visits. This will ensure you gain sense of what these patients’ needs are, and you will soon find your role as the radiation nurse.

Spend time with providers in all areas of the departments: Dosimetry, Physics, therapists in the treatment room; meet the nutritionist, social workers, and the front support staff. Go to Tumor Board and learn from the cases they present and network with other staff and physicians. Eventually, you want to get certified. Obtaining the CBCN certification      from the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) will validate your role and knowledge.

Hopefully, you will learn a lot and enjoy the work of helping patients with survivorship activities and see them remain in active, fulfilling lives for many decades as much as I do. —K. Lynne Quinn, RN, MSN, CRNP, AOCNP