By Margie Martinez, BSN, RN, Diane Kramer, MSN-Ed, RN, and Shelli Chernesky, DNP, MBA, RN, CCRN, NE-BC

Oncology nurses have a responsibility to continually enhance their career and practice—for their patients, for their profession, and even for themselves. Two strategies for doing that are certification and mentorship. Combining the two is an even more powerful approach.

Certification in a clinical specialty validates a nurse’s expertise in the field and proficiency in delivering high-quality care. Likewise, mentorship enhances a nurse’s competency in many career paths—biomedical research, patient care, education, and faculty—and fosters leadership diversity.

A primary goal at our institution for 2021 is increasing the number of certified nurses in the oncology and blood and marrow transplant (BMT) service lines. The shared governance council at Baptist Hospital Miami of Baptist Health South Florida collaborated with nursing leaders from both units to develop a 12-week process improvement (PI) project that highlights the benefits of certification for nurses and connects them with mentors across our health system.

How the Program Works

As a Magnet organization, our institution recognizes the importance of certification opportunities for nurses with evidence-based care, a conducive learning environment, and nurse empowerment. Nursing leaders managed the PI project by setting goals, providing support, and reinforcing timeline metrics for certification success.

Our aim statement has two components:

  • Validate clinical knowledge and improve care delivery through certification
  • Increase nurse certification by 10% before the end of 2021 with the use of mentorship

We found that weekly interactions between mentors and mentees effectively promoted certification. These interactions, along with scheduled modules, discussions, webinars, study groups, and encouragement, fostered PI outcome success.

Within 12 weeks, all mentees completed the education overview. Today, two RNs are certified and three more from our first cohort are scheduled to take the exam in 90 days.

Mentors and mentees communicated through in-person meetings and text messages. We tracked the learning modules and webinars each week during the 12-week period and found that mentees completed their loop-back communication an average of 81% of the time. The two mentees who are now certified communicated with their mentors at least 90% of the time. 

How We Developed the Program

We based the PI project on data from peer-reviewed literature about the effects of improved care in nursing. Baptist Health South Florida’s clinical learning team developed a robust and successful mentoring program because mentors are proven to benefit nurses pursuing professional development in today’s ever-changing clinical environment. Assisting in professional development, mentoring others, and preparing nurses for certification are all vital duties of nurse leaders and staff nurses alike. In doing so, nurses can better serve their patients, their institutions, and their profession.

Leaders, educators, and RNs from the oncology and BMT units collaborated with the clinical learning team to create a strategy through shared files and documentation tools. At the beginning of the PI project, five formal certified RN mentors, five RNs seeking certification, and five certified nurse leaders gathered for endorsement. They promoted the program to all nurses in both units and organized an in-service to educate staff on the mentoring-to-certification guidelines, mirroring the clinical learning team’s evidence-based recommendations.

“The weekly check-in helps keep me on track by giving tips, tools, and encouragement to obtain the Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN®) certification,” Arlett Gonzalez, BSN, RN, one mentee, said. “This opportunity for certification gives me the confidence to perform leadership activities on the unit such as charge nurse, precepting experienced nurses, students, residents, and new staff.”

After witnessing the program’s success, chief nursing officers expanded its rollout to all hospitals, outpatient centers, and urgent care areas in our health system. Our team looks forward to the second certification cohorts starting in fall 2021.