Get to know Barbara Holmes Gobel, MS, RN, AOCN®, FAAN, ONS Leadership Development Committee member from 2020–2023. Barb is the associate chief nurse executive, director of professional practice and development, and Magnet program director for Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, IL.
How long have you been a nurse?
I have been a nurse for more than 35 years.
What led you to oncology nursing?
As a new nurse, I had planned to practice in critical care. I had worked in that area as a student nurse and loved it. At the time I began my career, nurses needed to work on a general medical-surgical unit for at least six months prior to transferring to critical care. In those first six months of my practice, I cared for many patients receiving cancer surgeries. I found the field of oncology, which at the time was a fairly new specialty, fascinating and the patients so grateful for our care. One young patient with two separate cancers told me that I should go into oncology nursing instead of critical care, because I actually talked with him and listened to his concerns. His experience was that critical care practitioners did not have the time to listen. I followed his advice and haven’t looked back since!
What was your first experience with ONS?
I attended a very early meeting of the Chicago ONS Chapter. I’m not sure that it was even a chapter at that point, but I was intrigued by how invested and excited everyone was to talk about the issues that patients with cancer and the nurses caring for them faced. I don’t remember what the evening’s presentation covered, but the group’s enthusiasm got me hooked into the power of ONS.
What role has ONS served in your career?
ONS has had an enormous role in my career from very early in my career through today. It’s given me the opportunity to participated in a variety of activities at all levels—local, regional, national, and international. I attended an early ONS Congress and found it to be so stimulating that I knew I wanted to be involved and to hopefully take on leadership roles. My first leadership role in ONS was as the editor of the Clinical Nurse Specialist Special Interest Group Newsletter. That led to participating in several ONS project teams and committees as well as serving on the ONS Board of Directors as a director-at-large and secretary. Those experiences have enriched me as an individual and helped me develop my leadership skills throughout my career.
What relationships and connections have you made through ONS that you wouldn’t have found otherwise?
I have so many incredible mentors in this organization and have developed even more incredible friendships. I have friends all over the country—and the world—with whom I never would have met without my involvement in ONS. I remember years ago Connie Yarbro, RN, MS, FAAN, approaching me at an airport after an ONS Congress and asked me to consider writing for an oncology nursing publication. I was so surprised and honored that when she called to follow up, of course I said yes! Saying yes to writing turned out to be saying yes to an incredible mentorship and lifelong friend.
How did you get involved in ONS leadership?
My motto has always been, “Just say yes!” Early on, I saw that ONS provided enormous benefit to me as a person and to my career as an oncology professional, so throughout my career and my relationship with the Society, I’ve consistently looked for opportunities to say yes. This has led to amazing experiences, from being a part of an ONS committee to my board involvement. As a young professional, I could not have imagined representing ONS and ONS members at the national and international level, but support from my family and my home organizations has allowed me to grow and develop.
What has been your proudest moment as an oncology nurse?
It’s not just one moment, but rather a collection of moments that have defined my career. I’m so proud of the many patients and families whom I’ve cared for over the years. I’m proud of my very first publication in the oncology nursing field that jettisoned me to continue to write and publish over many years. I’m proud to have served ONS and the Oncology Nursing Foundation on their boards.
What is your biggest challenge in oncology nursing today, and how can ONS help?
The field of oncology continues to be an explosion of new data, information, and medications. It is hard for nurses to keep up with all of the changes and maintain their expertise in the field. ONS has always been a primary resource to oncology nurses. The challenge now is to keep up with how nurses best need and want this information, and the pandemic is further changing how we share and receive information. We need to stay ahead of the curve and continue to produce quality resources through venues such as ONS Bridge™.
What word would you say describes you?
What do you enjoy doing outside of nursing and why?
I have always loved gardening. I think that part of it is that I love warm weather and gardening to me is closely associated with summer months here in Chicago. I love planting and tending my garden and seeing the colors that it produces. In recent years, I have really enjoyed planting and growing vegetable. My granddaughters love help picking ripe (or even not-so-ripe) vegetables from the garden, which makes the process even more fun!