Answers provided by Marybeth Singer, MS, ANP-BC, AOCN®, Nurse Practitioner, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, MA

What exactly is certification?

Certification is the formal process by which a certifying agency, such as American Nurses Credentialing Center or ONCC, validates a nurse’s knowledge, skills, and abilities in a defined role and clinical area of practice, based on predetermined standards. Nurses achieve certification credentials through specialized education, experience in a specialty area, and a qualifying exam.

It’s also a profession’s official recognition of achievement, expertise, and clinical judgment. It is a mark of excellence that requires continued learning and skill development to maintain. Namely, it is a commitment to life-long learning.

What are the benefits of certification for oncology nurses?

Oncology nursing is founded on three C’s: caring, compassion, and competence. Certification develops the third C. The benefits are numerous: professional recognition and credibility, professional achievement, career advancement, professional opportunities, personal satisfaction, higher pay, licensure (advanced practice certifications), and improved outcomes (evidenced by patient safety data).


Answers provided by Brenda Wolles, RN, MS, CNL, AOCN®, Clinical Nurse Leader, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls, SD

What are initial steps an oncology nurse can take toward certification?

Finding a mentor or two can be helpful, especially one who is oncology certified. These individuals will possess the knowledge you need, as well as being familiar with and respecting the process. Mentors will also share your love of learning and passion for oncology nursing, and they can be a great connector between you and others in the industry, such as pharmaceutical representatives.

Something else I would stress is the importance of giving yourself credit for the knowledge you have. You may have knowledge depth that general nurses do not—the biology of cancer, chemotherapies, immunotherapies, targeted agents, side effects, and oncologic emergencies. After some time, you also become aware of the psychosocial aspects of care: spiritual, financial, family dynamics, grief and loss, survivorship, and palliative and hospice care. You may also be versed in ethical issues, quality improvement, legal and scope of practice items. These are all great foundations for certification.

What kind of organizational support for certification exists for nurses?

A good example would be the Sanford Medical Center in Sioux Falls, SD. The center is a Magnet hospital with a sound Commission on Cancer-accredited cancer program. There, nursing certification is strongly encouraged, and the hospital supports cost to attain and maintain certification. The program currently has 15 OCN®-certified nurses on inpatient unit and five studying for the exam. Resources like this exist, and I encourage nurses to seek them.

Beyond taking and passing the exams, what can nurses do to enhance their certifications?

It’s important to network and build relationships with other nurses and industry professionals. One way to do this is to mentor and others, encouraging them to certify, acting as a good professional role model. Also, certification nourishes your career advancement. For me, I was a bedside RN turned clinical care coordinator turned clinical nurse leader in oncology.