6 minutes reading time (1241 words)

​Why We Need Certified Oncology Nurses: An Interview With Barbara Gobel, MS, RN, AOCN®, FAAN

For oncology nurses, certification has a significant impact on career advancement and quality care. Since oncology is a rapidly changing field, up-to-date study materials are therefore crucial. To this end, Oncology Nursing Review, Sixth Edition, has just been published. This new edition is an essential guide for oncology nurses studying for the Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN®) exam offered by the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC). Coauthor Barbara Holmes Gobel, MS, RN, AOCN®, FAAN spoke with i3 Health about the increasing demand for oncology nurses, their role in patient care, and the importance of maintaining certification. 

Why do think that there's such a high demand for oncology nurses right now?

Barbara Holmes Gobel, MS, RN, AOCN®, FAAN: The demand is driven by the need. Particularly in this country, but worldwide, there's a high prevalence of cancer. It is certainly one of the most common diseases that people will get. So, the need to have individuals who have specialized education and training in cancer care is critical.

How does the role of the oncology nurse affect the patient's experience?

Ms. Gobel: The role of the oncology nurse is so important. Cancer is a very complex diagnosis and experience for patients. Because of its complexity, it's not just the patient who is affected, it's the whole family unit.

Beyond their initial education, nurses need additional education and training in the specifics of cancer care, such as cancer treatment, symptom management, incidence and prevalence of cancer, and the pathobiology of cancer.

This education helps when managing patients day-to-day by helping them understand the disease and what they're going to be facing in terms of treatment. That treatment may be chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy. A lot of our new immuno-biologic agents have a whole new side effect profile that we need to make sure our nurses are understanding so that they can take the best care possible of their patients.

What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of being an oncology nurse?

Ms. Gobel: Even though cancer can have acute phases, it is often a chronic illness, so you develop long-term relationships with patients. You may have relationships that can last from months to years with patients and their families. For me, that's always been the most rewarding aspect of cancer care.

On top of the relationship building that you get with patients and families, oncology is an interesting field. There are always new treatments on the horizon. It's a field in which you have to stay on top of new therapies because unlike when I first started in oncology nursing, new therapies are happening yearly, if not monthly. It's really exciting because you never know who that next patient will be, the next treatment, or how they'll respond to treatment.

Can you speak to the importance of oncology nursing certifications?

Ms. Gobel: Oncology certification is about demonstrating a nurse's foundational knowledge in an area. Any certification exam is a standardized cross-section of that particular field. When a nurse studies for, sits for, and passes the exam, they're demonstrating to the public, to their peers, and to their employers, that they have developed a specialized knowledge in a specific area of nursing.

For oncology nurses, it's so valuable. In my role at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, we actually require that nurses get their specialty certification once they have enough hours to sit for an exam. We know the value that certification brings. There have been studies that show that a higher percentage of certified nurses in your hospital actually improve the quality of care and safety metrics.

How do you see the Oncology Nursing Review book improving oncology nursing practice?

Ms. Gobel: The Oncology Nursing Review book is focused on questions that help prepare nurses for the oncology certification nursing exam. Everything in the book is referenced back to either Cancer Nursing: Principles and Practice, 8th edition, A Guide to Cancer Symptom Management, 4th edition, or Breast Care Certification Review.

For every question asked in the review book, we provide nurses a thought-provoking question with 4 possible answers and the rationale for the right answer. We also provide the specific reference that allows nurses than to go back and do more in-depth learning on that particular question. It's different than other question and answer books that are out there. It provides a lot of background support for the nurse learner.

What major changes have there been from the previous edition to the new one?

Ms. Gobel: The oncology certification exam for nurses is a standardized test that gets updated every four years, so the oncology certification board will look at changing practices, roles, and treatments, and then update the blueprints. With this new edition, we use the most current OCN® blueprint for the exam. It changed how things were sequenced in the book, but it also added some new areas.

Can you speak about the role of ILNA points in staying certified?

Ms. Gobel: ILNA is an individual learning need assessment. You essentially take a pretest before you sit for a certification exam that would identify areas that you need to develop additional knowledge in. That's what's so valuable about our Oncology Nursing Review book. If I do this learning assessment, and I identify that I don't understand oncologic emergencies well enough to answer specific questions, then I could focus in on the oncologic emergencies chapter in the review book.

Then, I could take those questions and answers and go back to A Guide to Oncology Symptom Management or Cancer Nursing: Principles and Practice to really focus my preparation for the certification exam.

What resources are available for oncology nurses to stay up to date on topics like treatment advances and adverse advent management?

Ms. Gobel: The books I mentioned earlier are a really comprehensive resource. Another great resource is the Oncology Nursing Society. By becoming a member of the Oncology Nursing Society, individuals have access to two journal subscriptions, the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing and Oncology Nursing Forum.

They have access to a lot of educational programming. Another great resource is a journal called, Seminars in Oncology Nursing. That particular journal is very theme-based, so every journal issue is built around a particular theme, whether it's genomics, aging in cancer, or caregiver impact. Those are just some of the resources available to oncology nurses wherever they practice.

Is there an experience that led you to oncology nursing?

Ms. Gobel: Everybody has their own story. Patients are what got me into the field. When I came out of my nursing program, I really wanted to go into critical care nursing. My first nursing job was in a big surgical unit where I took care of a lot of patients who had surgery for cancer. In working with my patients, and receiving patient feedback, I realized that cancer care was where I belonged, so when I went to graduate school, my focus was oncology nursing.

My whole clinical practice over many, many years, has been in oncology nursing, whether it's stem cell transplant, hematology/oncology, general medical oncology, or palliative care. I've always had that clinical focus in my practice.

About Ms. Gobel:

Barbara Holmes Gobel, MS, RN, AOCN®, FAAN is the Associate Chief Nurse Executive, Director of Professional Practice Development, and Magnet Program Director at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Ms. Gobel has been an oncology nurse and a member of ONS for more than 30 years, having served on several committees and special interest groups within the organization. She is currently the National Secretary on the Oncology Nursing Society Board of Directors.

Transcript edited for clarity.

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