Nurse Types / Hematology Nurse
Hematology is the study of blood and blood diseases. This field is on the frontline of some of medicine’s most exciting treatment advances. If this has captured your interest, you may have decided you would like to become a hematology nurse.
The unique opportunities this affords are worth pursuing. Not only will you be involved in the science of hematology, but you will be a part of making a difference in patients’ lives.
If you’re wondering where to start, we’ve put together a guide to help make it easier to achieve your goal of becoming a hematology nurse. We’ll discuss:
- What is a hematology nurse?
- What do hematology nurses do?
- Where do hematology nurses work?
- What are specific types of hematology nurses?
- How do you become a hematology nurse in 3 steps?
- What are additional requirements of hematology nurses?
- What are the salary and career outlooks of hematology nurses?
What is a hematology nurse?
Hematology nurses work to treat blood and bone marrow disorders. Their role is often paired with oncology, due to the similarities between the two fields.
A hematology nurse is part of a larger team of doctors and researchers that develop treatment plans to help people diagnosed with these health concerns.
Qualities of a successful hematology nurse
Hematology is a rapidly evolving field of medicine. Hematology nurses must be:
- Able to engage in patient education
- Willing to learn new things
- Good at assessment
- Possess solid communication abilities
- Hold excellent critical thinking skills
- Able to show empathy and patience
What do hematology nurses do?
Treating hematological disorders involves careful assessment of each patient’s progress. Hematology nurses use these assessment skills to review labs and the patient’s treatment plan. A hematology nurse will help treat these problems with specialized infusions and blood transfusions as necessary.
As part of treating these patients, a hematology nurse will:
- Interview patients
- Collect labs such as blood and urine samples
- Provide patient education
- Communicate with the healthcare team
- Review lab results
- Administer medications including IV infusions
- Assist with bone marrow biopsies
- Perform blood transfusions
A day in the life of a hematology nurse
Hematology nurses must think on their feet while delivering bedside care to their patients. They consistently monitor for symptoms like:
- Infusion and transfusion reactions
They’re ready to step in to provide compassionate care when the need arises.
Common conditions treated by hematology nurses
A hematology nurse will see some conditions frequently, and others more rarely. You may be familiar with some of them already, but many you will only see in this specialized role. They include:
- Sickle cell anemia
- Multiple myeloma
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
- Von Willebrand disease
- Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria
- Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura
- Clotting disorders
Where do hematology nurses work?
Along with providing care in hospitals, you can find hematology nurses in the following settings:
- Cancer centers
- Hematology outpatient clinics
- Pediatric hematology clinics
- Oncology outpatient clinics
- Specialty blood disorder clinics
What are specific types of hematology nurses?
Hematology nurses can further specialize in their field and may fit into a few specific categories:
- Pediatric hematology nurse- these nurses specialize in pediatric hematology care.
- Hematology/oncology nurse- often seen in combination with hematology roles, these nurses have expanded knowledge to treat all types of cancer alongside hematological disorders.
- Advanced practice hematology nurse- a nurse with a master’s degree, working as a nurse practitioner to treat patients.
- Hematology nurse navigator– a nurse case management role, helping patients organize their care and find resources to support them throughout their illness.
Closely related fields
There is some overlap between hematology and oncology nursing, and often you will see the two specialties in combination. Other closely related fields include:
- Bone marrow transplant (BMT) nurse- nurses that specialize in caring for bone marrow transplant recipients before and after the procedure; this is often a part of treating hematology patients.
- Radiation oncology nurse- an oncology specialty that treats cancer using radiation therapy.
- Genetics nurse- involved in diseases that can have a genetic component, including hematology disorders.
How do you become a hematology nurse in 3 steps?
Because hematology nursing is a specialized field, to successfully land a position as a hematology nurse there are some requirements. By following these 3 steps, you can reach your goal of being part of this dynamic and exciting specialty.
Step 1 – Become a registered nurse
You’ll need a nursing license to apply for a job as a hematology nurse, so if you aren’t already a registered nurse, this is the most important step! There are a few things you’ll need to do to achieve a license.
Earn a BSN degree
Most employers will look for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), especially in specialized areas like hematology. You can go straight to the BSN degree, or there are a few other ways to earn it as well:
- RN to BSN– this is for nurses who have an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and want to quickly earn a BSN using the credits from their ADN degree.
- ABSN– the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing allows you to change careers from one field to another, by using credits already earned with a previous bachelor’s degree.
Pass the NCLEX exam
To obtain a nursing license, earning a BSN is only part of the equation. Once you graduate, you also need to take and pass the NCLEX exam, which proves you know everything necessary to safely practice as an entry-level RN.
Step 2 – Accumulate experience
Employers in hematology nursing will expect to see a certain level of nursing experience in job candidates. If you’re already an experienced nurse looking to change your nursing specialty, you’re in a great position. If you’re a new grad, expect to work in nursing in a general role like med-surg for at least one to two years, gaining skills and experience, before applying for a hematology role.
Helpful skills and experience
You can expect skills such as understanding lab results including complete blood count (CBC) to be high on the list.
Any critical care experience also translates well into being able to react quickly in an emergency like a chemotherapy or transfusion reaction.
In addition, understanding how to navigate emotionally charged situations is a great skill to develop. For some hematology patients, their diagnosis is chronic with ongoing symptoms like pain that need to be continuously managed. For others, may mean they are facing a terminal illness.
Changing specialty to a hematology nurse
If you are transitioning from one area of nursing to a hematology nurse role, you’ll find some other skills you’ve picked up along the way are useful in hematology, too.
- Assessing patients for signs and symptoms of drug reactions
- Managing complex pain
- Working with other members of the healthcare team to develop a plan of care
- Educating patients
Specialties like med-surg, ICU, and emergency room are all great areas to come from for hematology nursing. You’ll have experience thinking on your feet and putting together complex medical information to care for your hematology patients.
Expert advice from nurses like you
Step 3 – Obtain certifications
Hematology nursing requires advanced knowledge and additional skills that are not part of a typical nurse’s background. Because of this, nursing certifications in hematology and oncology are a requirement for hematology nurses.
There are a handful of certifications related to hematology that you can earn. If you do not have one of these certifications, you may be required to earn it as part of your orientation process as a new hematology nurse.
At a minimum, an ONS/ONCC Chemotherapy Immunotherapy Certificate is needed to administer many of the medications used in both hematology and oncology. Additionally, you can earn:
- Registered Nurse: Board Certified (RN-BC)- Hemostasis Certification
- Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN)
- Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON)
- Certified Pediatric Oncology Nurse (CPON)
- Blood & Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse (BMTCN)
- Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse (AOCN)
- Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP)
- Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist (AOCNS)
Along with one or more of the above certifications, it may be helpful to achieve your Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certification (ACLS). Nurses working with transfusion or infusion reactions can benefit from this certification.
What are additional requirements of hematology nurses?
Hematology is a constantly evolving field, with updates to evidence-based treatment modalities happening all the time. Hematology nurses should expect to regularly attend continuing education courses to learn about advancements in hematology and/or oncology treatments.
These CEUs are also required by most state boards of nursing to renew your nursing license. Hematology nurses usually find that the number of educational opportunities they have in their job role more than fulfills the minimum number of hours required.
What are the salary and career outlooks for hematology nurses?
With the number of Americans age 65 and older doubling in the next 40 years, it can be expected that a growth in hematologic malignancies will happen as well. This should lead to consistently high demand for hematology nurses.
Due to the many opportunities for advancement and growth in the field of hematology, including roles that combine oncology care, the average annual salary for this specialty is $119,698.
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Nurses who work in hematology often express their patients are a special population of individuals. They are often able to form a close bond. This often emotionally charged type of care means patients and nurses become part of a “hematology family.”
You can get real perspectives on hematology nursing by talking with nurses experienced in the field, and asking them what their job means to them.
As you can see, being a hematology nurse can open doors to many exciting opportunities in this specialty.
Along with obtaining the additional certifications listed, a hematology nurse with some experience can consider advancing their degree and working in hematology as a nurse practitioner (NP). The need for advanced practitioners in the field of hematology and oncology has grown from 52% in 2014 to 81% in 2017 alone.
Whatever path you choose, hematology nursing is bound to be a rewarding, interesting, and challenging career!
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