Mentorships Open Opportunities for Oncology Nurses’ Career Growth and Wellness

January 31, 2023 by Madison Greer Staff Writer

Oncology nurses recognize the value ( of mentorship in their practice, crediting it to bridging knowledge gaps, identifying best practices, building confidence, and providing a rock and safe person to go to. January is National Mentoring Month, and we’ve asked ONS members to share their own experiences that have helped them grow professionally and personally.

What the Research Tells Us

Strong mentorship is a critical ingredient ( for a successful and productive career in oncology, and because mentorship needs vary across specialties, a tailored approach can address each nurse’s diverse and unique needs. In both a mentor or mentee role, nurses who have mentorship relationships report ( increased compassion satisfaction, decreased burnout, and enhanced professional growth.

In 2019, an ONS task force found that mentorship is a key contributor to success ( for young oncology nurses just starting in the profession, providing them with the important resources, attention, and expertise that they need to be successful in their careers. But mentorship can translate to an oncology nurse’s personal life, too. Some of your mentor’s lessons or your mentee’s views may directly transfer over to the joys and challenges in all aspects of your life.

How to Practice

Mentorship can drive your practice forward, open your eyes to new experiences, and allow you to empower other oncology nurses through their career journeys. This National Mentoring Month, we asked ONS members to share their experiences as a mentor or mentee in oncology nursing and how those experiences shaped their careers on the ONS Communities ( Here’s what they said:

Holly Kristy Tenaglia, DNP, APRN, AGCNS-BC, OCN®, clinical nurse specialist at VA San Diego Healthcare System in California: Tenaglia was matched with her mentor Marlon Garzo Saria, PhD, RN, AOCNS®, FAAN, OCN®, through ONS’s Young Leader Pilot Program. She explained that her interactions with her mentor have opened opportunities to grow professionally through peer reviewing, publishing, and political advocacy. Although they are only a few months into the program, Tenaglia said that she sees her relationship with her mentor as lifelong and can’t wait to pay his guidance forward in her oncology nursing career.

“Being matched with Marlon opened my eyes to something I had never realized about myself,” Tenaglia said. “As a Filipino nurse, despite how many Filipinos are in the field of nursing, I’ve never been mentored or guided by someone that looked like me or could relate to some of the feelings I had based off my cultural background. I finally understood how empowering it can be to see someone that looks like you achieving goals that you hope to achieve one day.”

Jane Armer, PhD, RN, CLT, FAAN, professor emerita at the University of Missouri in Columbia: As a young nurse researcher, Armer had the privilege to be mentored by “a giant in the field of oncology nursing, Verna Adwell Rhodes, RN, FAAN, of the University of Missouri.” Armer said that Rhodes was a pioneer in symptom assessment and management, and that one of her peers called Rhodes “the mother of symptom management” for patients with cancer.

“Mentoring itself brings me the greatest rewards of my career in research and education,” Armer said. “At this time in my career, mentorship becomes a legacy in ensuring the sound future of oncology nursing patient care, research, and education. Just as I have been influenced by the leadership and passion of oncology nursing leaders like Verna Rhodes, Connie Henke Yarbro, RN, MSc, FAAN, and Lillian Nail, PhD, RN, FAAN, to name three, I trust collective generations of mentorship will continue to yield nurses drawn to and committed to oncology nursing.”

Lisa Feldsien, BSN, RN, OCN®, RN staff nurse at Baptist Health Paducah in Kentucky: Feldsien’s mentor Becky Crider, RN, BSN, was a clinician and skilled educator, and Feldsien began working with her when she left inpatient oncology to transition to the intensive care unit. Feldsien explained that the two of them have become the best of friends, supporting one another and continuing learning together, despite her mentor’s retirement.

“Becky has been a blessing in my life,” Feldsien said. “I hope that the nurses I precepted and mentored feel the same.”

Kathleen Shannon Dorcy, RN, PhD, FAAN, director of clinical/nursing research and practice at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, WA: Shannon Dorcy recalled having been fortunate to have several mentors across her career, such as Kathi Mooney, PhD, RN, FAAN, whose work with Susie Beck, PhD, RN, FAAN, at the University of Utah created a doctoral program for place-bound nurses. “I was able to enter into doctoral studies while working full time, and was challenged to think in transformational paradigms of practice, where I could co-create new opportunities in oncology nursing and embrace equity and justice in oncology care delivery and mentor other nurses,” Shannon Dorcy said.

One nurse that Shannon Dorcy mentored has seen tremendous growth opportunities in her specialty. “Over several years, she advanced in her leadership roles within the organization and earned her master’s degree,” Shannon Dorcy said. “Today, she is the transplantation and cellular therapy senior manager working with the latest chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapies and monitoring new nurses into state of science oncology care. Mitch Mitchell, MSN, RN, OCN®, has been a grace to know, to mentor as an undergraduate, to serve as chair of her graduate committee, and to walk with her in the clinical practice of oncology care at our quaternary center.”

Jeannine Brant, PhD, APRN-CNS, AOCN®, FAAN, 2022–2023 ONS President: One of Brant’s fondest mentorship memories was when she brought her master’s thesis to an ONS writing mentorship program at the 1990 ONS Congress®. Brant’s mentor, Judy Paice, PhD, RN, FAAN, reviewed the paper ahead of time and offered her feedback, along with some advice on publishing the piece in an academic journal.

“Judy continued to be my mentor throughout the years, and I still call on her today from time to time,” Brant said. “And as I mentor new writers, I take them back to my slashed paper and hurt feelings that happened almost 30 years ago and try to instill in them that they can do this. . . . During the last few years, I’ve mentored more than 20 nurses to publish their papers with remarkable success. To learn and never be filled is wisdom. To teach and never grow weary is love. Mentoring is about loving to learn and loving to teach!”

Nancy Houlihan, RN, MA, AOCN®, 2020–2022 ONS President: Houlihan has participated in mentorships over the course of her more than 40 years of experience as an oncology nurse and believes that “mentorship is the singular most significant key to professional and personal development” and that mentoring may be as rewarding as being mentored.

“I began mentoring a young oncology nurse as her career was expanding beyond a newly acquired graduate degree,” Houlihan said. “She has gone on to present internationally, publish in peer-reviewed journals, lead manor initiatives in her organization and her local ONS chapter, and influence many about oncology nursing excellence. I have learned so much from her in the process. She has shared her development challenges and helped me understand courage, risk-taking, and diversity in a very personal way. I will always be grateful for the opportunities she has provided me, which are, at the very least, equal to what I have shared with her.”

Do you have a mentorship experience that you’d like to share? Visit the ONS Communities ( to add your story.

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