The impact of professional certification goes far beyond the authority to practice. Certification is a testament to expertise, excellence in patient care, and commitment. This article uses the diverse certification journeys of three oncology nurses to highlight some of the key benefits of certification. Their paths offer direction and motivation to new and experienced nurses in this specialty.

Value of Certification

Lori Williams, PhD, APRN, OCN®, AOCN®, began her certification and practice journey in 1980, when she earned her BSN degree and became a registered nurse. After she started working in the oncology setting, she began to pursue certifications and advanced degrees. She has earned Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN®) certification, Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse (AOCN®) certification, and clinical nurse specialist certification. She also has served on the test development committees for these programs, including a term as chair of the AOCN® test development committee. She currently is a member of the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation’s (ONCC®) Board of Directors.

Williams’ path demonstrates the value of professional development and dedication through testing. She highlights the following benefits to certification.

  • Documentation of expertise
  • Recognition from colleagues
  • Job requirement or preference
  • Monetary award for or assistance in earning certification
  • Constant motivation for and proof of continued competence across your career

The ONCC® offers many opportunities for certified oncology nurses to work with the organization, including as an item writer, member of the test development committee, and leaders within the organization. Service with the oncology specialty’s certifying body offers leadership and networking opportunities that enhance personal and professional development.

Promoting Accountability

Mary Feng, BSN, OCN®, has been an oncology certified nurse since 2009, a few years after she began working in surgical oncology. She went on to serve as an OCN® item writer and the OCN® Individual Learning Needs Assessment committee, and later as committee chairwoman.

Certification is important to recent graduates for many reasons. Feng’s work with certification candidates over the years has produced comments such as

  • “I realized I had a lot to learn about [patients’] disease processes … Taking the test to become certified helped me to acknowledge how much I had learned. I also think the fact that you need to maintain your certification helps you stay up-to-date with your practice.”
  • “[Certification] helped me become a more prudent oncology nurse who not only looks at my patient and how they present at the moment, but how they presented before and after their journey with cancer.”

Keeping certification status up-to-date is also important for experienced nurses.

  • “It provides guidance and direction for ongoing education and current practice, and it gives me more confidence and job satisfaction.”
  • “It’s very easy to say that I will keep abreast by attending lectures and seminars and reading articles. However, life is busy, so it’s difficult to do this. Being certified gives you accountability, making it easier to attend the lectures and seminars and read the articles you need to keep current.”

Opportunity Knocking

Lucy Licameli, RN, BSN, OCN®, is the current vice president of the ONCC® Board of Directors and has served as a mentor and item writer. She recommends earning certification for the following reasons.

  • To meet employer requirements
  • For personal achievement
  • To validate professional expertise and demonstrate commitment to patient care
  • To stay current with ever-changing practice and treatments
  • To advance public opinion of the nursing profession

It is important to note that physicians are board certified. To improve and help assure the collaboration among oncology nurses and physicians, it is important that nurses also earn national certification in their specialty.

Licameli urged that oncology nurses view certification as a tool to achieve career goals. Ask yourself: What do I want out of my career? Oncology nursing is more than a job; it is a calling. Nurses in this specialty need credibility, and this is achieved in part by ongoing learning.

Certification Resources

To learn more about certification opportunities in oncology

  • Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC®)
  • ONCC® offers eight oncology nurse certifications:
    • OCN®
    • Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse
    • Certified Breast Care Nurse
    • Blood and Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse
    • AOCN® Practitioner
    • Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist
    • Certified Pediatric Oncology Nurse
    • AOCN®

Editor’s Note: This article is a summary of a presentation given by Lori Williams, PhD, APRN, OCN®, AOCN®, member of the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC®) Board of Directors and an assistant professor at the MD Anderson Cancer Center; Mary Feng, BSN, OCN®, committee chair of the Oncology Certified Nurse Individual Learning Needs Assessment for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; and Lucy Licameli, RN, BSN, OCN®, vice president of the ONCC® Board of Directors and gynecologic/oncology nurse coordinator at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, at the 2017 ONS 42nd Annual Congress.