Get to know Valerie Burger, RN, MA, MS, OCN®, CPN, treasurer for the ONS Board of Directors from 2021–2023 and director-at-large from 2021–2024. Burger is an assistant vice president of cancer services from Bellmore, NY.
How long have you been a nurse?
My family might tell you I have been a nurse since I was five years old, but legally, I have been a nurse for 34 years. It’s funny how it doesn’t feel that long. I guess the saying is true: “When you love what you do, you don’t work a day I your life.”
What led you to oncology nursing?
I think oncology found me. I started as a pediatric nurse in Boston and was looking to work in a peds unit when I returned to New York. I found myself on the corner of 68th Street and York Avenue in Manhattan, looked up at the hospital there, and said, “I wonder if they have a peds unit?” I walked into Memorial Sloan Kettering, was offered a job on their pediatric unit, and haven’t looked back. I am so grateful for the many opportunities that oncology nursing has afforded me during all those years.
What was your first experience with ONS?
When I first started in pediatric oncology nursing, the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation hadn’t developed a specialty certification for it yet. So I became oncology certified and pediatric certified, and ONS had the resources I needed to prepare for the oncology exam. ONS has always had tremendous resources! My career took me from Manhattan to Westchester and eventually Long Island, where I became involved with the Long Island Queens chapter. The nurses in that chapter have such a camaraderie and kinship, and many of those in my area who have advanced in oncology nursing—friends, coworkers, and colleagues—became my role models for where I wanted to be.
What role has ONS had in your career?
ONS is the beacon that guides my oncology practice. I have always looked to ONS resources to update my practice or to build a connection to other professionals through the communities (or the special interest groups before that). ONS Congress™ is a great yearly opportunity to meet colleagues form around the world. I remember one year having a Congress buddy from Australia; even though they practiced so far away, we shared so many commonalities. ONS has always been in the background of my career as the go-to place for any necessary information. When I am feeling inquisitive or in need of a spark to get things moving, I have turned to the ONS website and consistently found an activity or suggestion that makes my work life more exciting.
What connections have you made through ONS that you wouldn’t have found otherwise?
Being involved in ONS has give me confidence to reach out to colleagues and ask questions to help guide my practice. I have met magazine editors, industry professionals, clinical instructors, authors, and researchers. I now know people who have consulted for U.S. presidents and represented our organization internationally. And I’ve asked those same people for advice, both personal and professional.
How did you get involved in ONS leadership?
It started with volunteering: for a short time at the chapter level, then as a reviewer for journal articles. From there I volunteered to be an associate editor for the Oncology Nursing Forum. As I served in those roles, I looked around the room and saw my brilliant colleagues, and I knew I wanted to continue to be associated with ONS as an organization.
What has been your proudest moment as an oncology nurse?
My most fulfilling moments have been with patients. When one woman asked, “Will you be my nurse tomorrow?” I felt the satisfaction of a job well done. When I had an end-of-life discussion with a wife and her husband died the next day, initially I felt that I had had the discussion too late, but she later wrote me a note thanking me for being honest and preparing her as no one else had. Those are some of my best moments. When we touch our patients and their families in their moment of need, I see the sacredness of our profession. Oncology nursing gives us many of those opportunities.
What is your biggest challenge in oncology nursing today and how can ONS help?
Keeping up with new drugs and indications is always a challenge. ONS has always kept nurses competent through up-to-date educational materials. The Society’s mission to advance excellence in oncology nursing and quality cancer care. COVID-19 has posed a new set of problems for oncology nurses in treating patients with both diseases and getting people back to screening recommendations. As we all push to reinforce to the public that screening is safe and necessary, we are challenged to stay safe and rebuild confidence to screen and foster prevention activities.
What word would you say describes you?
What do you enjoy doing outside of nursing and why?
I used to be (prepandemic Valerie) out and about all the time, running from one function to another like a social butterfly. The pandemic has taught me to appreciate being home and still. We rescued a younger dog during the pandemic after our 15-year-old pup passed away and my son’s family fostered a litter of puppies, so I have become an official dog lady! Walking, playing, and cuddling on the couch are my new favorite pastimes. I am learning how to heave a tennis ball, and finally the dog has trained me to give him treats for its return!