By Heather Thompson Mackey, MSN, RN, ANP-BC, AOCN®

heather mackey
ONS Director-at-Large Heather Thompson Mackey, MSN, RN, ANP-BC, AOCN®, is a nurse practitioner at Novant Health in Greensboro, NC.

I still remember what it felt like to sign my name in the chart for the first time after passing the OCN®—and later the AOCN®—examination: excitement, accomplishment, relief, and pride.

I knew that the credential didn’t automatically make me a smarter or better clinician, but it did validate the knowledge and skills that I had been working so hard to achieve over my years of practice as an oncology nurse. It was a sign to my patients and their caregivers that I had specialized knowledge to more confidently care for them and anticipate their needs. It increased my credibility in the eyes of my fellow team members and gave me the self-assurance to become more involved professionally in my career and begin my leadership journey.

Opening Doors Locally

Soon after achieving my certification, I was elected as secretary of my local Piedmont Triad ONS Chapter, which gave me an avenue to connect with mentors who helped me develop my initial leadership skills. I became involved on my unit as a charge nurse and preceptor, assisting new nurses to learn this wonderful world of oncology and experienced nurses to help them further their professional development by obtaining oncology certification. As a certified nurse, I was asked to be part of our institution’s shared governance work and submitted a poster abstract highlighting those experiences, which was accepted for podium presentation at ONS Congress. Achieving and advocating for certification was vital in our institution’s work toward receiving Magnet accreditation, becoming the first hospital in our state (and one of the first in the country) to do so.

Guiding to National Leadership

I went on to become involved on the national level with ONS by serving on the Institutes of Learning (previously known as Fall Institute) Planning Team and with the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) by serving on the ONCC Certification News Editorial Board. The mentoring and professional growth from those experiences led to a variety of leadership roles that allowed me to collaborate with and learn from oncology nursing colleagues across the nation. Never did I think that by taking that first step after passing my certification exam would I be sitting where I am today, about to start my term as a director-at-large on the ONS Board of Directors. Without the confidence certification gave me and the opportunities it provided, I likely wouldn’t be here today.

Throughout my 22 years in oncology nursing, I’ve had the good fortune to work in a variety of roles across different healthcare systems. I have seen firsthand the value that certification provides for nurses as well as the improved outcomes and quality for patients and caregivers. Oncology certification can open many doors throughout your career and strengthen you as a leader. Both you and your patients will benefit from all that it provides, and it is an investment well worth making.