What Is the Difference Between Adult Nurse Practitioner Degree vs. Oncology Nurse Degree?

by Beth Greenwood

Registered nurses include advanced practice nurses such as nurse practitioners and specialized nurses such as oncology nurses. In some cases, there's crossover between the two, as when a nurse practitioner specializes in oncology nursing. An adult nurse practitioner, however, has a very different role than that of an oncology nurse.

Specific Educational Requirements

All nurses must begin their careers with the basic educational programs that permit them to take the NCLEX-RN licensing exam. Whether an oncology nurse or an adult nurse practitioner, the beginning nurse chooses an associate degree, a nursing diploma or a bachelor’s degree. No national requirements for oncology nurses exist beyond this minimum requirement, although the website Discover Nursing does recommend that oncology nurses choose the bachelor’s degree for their initial education. The adult nurse practitioner must have a master’s degree, however.

Adult Nurse Practitioner

An adult nurse practitioner has education in both the care of adults and the care of elders, so the more correct term for this advanced practice nurse is adult-gerontology nurse practitioner. In addition to her patient care education, she also has education for a particular work setting. Adult-gerontology NPs might take classes for acute care, critical care and trauma, or primary care. Each is a separate specialty and will affect the NP’s day-to-day practice as well as the kinds of certification exams available to her.

Oncology Nurse

An oncology nurse could be a staff nurse, manager, chemotherapy specialist, clinical nurse specialist or nurse practitioner. Although the clinical nurse specialist and nurse practitioner must have master’s degrees, the other nurses could have different levels of educational preparation. Managers, however, are more likely to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Certification in oncology isn't mandatory for practice, but many oncology nurses choose to acquire certification, and some employers may prefer or require it.

Differences in Practice

Adult nurse practitioners have a much broader scope of practice than many oncology nurses. They can diagnose disease, prescribe medications and treatments, order and interpret diagnostics tests and often practice at the same level as a physician. Oncology nurses, like all RNs, provide direct patient care, administer medications and other treatments, and coordinate care in collaboration with others. Advanced practice oncology nurses have the same scope of practice as an adult care NP.

Choosing a Career

Adult NPs have much more responsibility than the average oncology nurse. They also spend more time in the educational process and must be certified as well as licensed in all states. An advanced practice nurse who specializes in oncology would have similar responsibilities and educational requirements. Staff nurses in oncology have less responsibility and could complete their education within two or three years. As RNs, oncology nurses could expect to earn the average annual salary reported by the BLS for 2012 -- $67,930 -- while adult-gerontology and oncology NPs could expect to earn $91,450 annually.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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