The ONS Oncology Nurse Generalist competencies define the fundamental knowledge, skills, and abilities that nurses new to oncology practice should develop or acquire within the first one to two years of oncology practice. The target audience includes both beginning nurses new to practice as well as seasoned nurses who enter the oncology specialty after working in another area.

During the past decade, various organizations have called for more defined standards regarding nursing education and practice, including the establishment of competencies to help improve the quality of patient care. This involved resources such as the National Academy of Medicine report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, released in 2010 along with an update in 2015. These, along with ONS members’ request for better standards to aid in the orientation, professional development, and assessment of oncology nurse generalists, led the ONS Board of Directors to make this project work a priority for our specialty.

The competencies serve as the foundation of professional oncology nursing practice. They were developed using a multistep process that built on previous ONS competency work with nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, clinical trial nurses, and oncology nurse navigators.

ONS formed a project team of eight nurse leaders across a variety of oncology practice settings. The group was charged with defining the core competencies for the oncology nurse generalist caring for adult patients with cancer. To begin, the team conducted an extensive literature review that revealed a lack of evidence supporting oncology generalist nursing practice and confirming the distinct gap that these competencies would address.

Narrowing down the core competencies from the vast scope of oncology nursing practice was one of the project team’s more difficult challenges. Although oncology is considered a specialty, it has many different areas of subspecialization. Determining those shared competencies proved tough at times.

The project team used best practices from the literature to establish the initial draft. The draft competencies were refined and distributed for public comment and for managers, administrators, clinical nurse specialists, and staff to review and provide feedback. Based on the feedback, the project team made additional edits and then distributed the competencies to an expert panel for their review.

Experts provided feedback on the flow, clarity, and completeness of the statements. Based on their responses, final edits were made and ONS published the resulting list of 37 competencies. Read about the Oncology Nurse Generalist Competencies and additional ONS competencies.