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Cancer Care

It’s OK to Ask for Certified Oncology Nurses to Provide Your Cancer Care

When you or someone you love is facing cancer, you want to be sure you have the best possible healthcare providers. It is common to seek second opinions from doctors or to research the ratings of cancer programs in your area. But have you thought about the qualifications of the oncology nurses on your care team?

Certification in oncology nursing means a nurse has the experience, specialized knowledge, and education needed to competently provide cancer care. Certification shows your nurse is committed to providing you with the best possible care.

Experience and knowledge

It is not easy to become certified in oncology nursing. First, a nurse must have at least two years of experience as a Registered Nurse (RN) or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), and thousands of hours of practice in cancer care. The nurse must also have completed continuing education in oncology.

Next, a nurse must pass a comprehensive test to become certified. The test is based on national nursing practice. It covers a wide range of cancer nursing topics, such as prevention and detection, treatment, symptom management, and survivorship. Nurses who pass this test have proven they have a strong knowledge of cancer care.

But becoming certified is just the beginning. Oncology certified nurses stay up to date on the latest cancer care by taking knowledge assessments every few years and completing continuing education programs. 

Certified oncology nurses can provide care for patients of all ages and with many different types of cancer. You can expect to find certified oncology nurses in hospitals and cancer centers, doctor’s offices, infusion clinics, home care, and in many other settings where patients receive cancer treatment and survivorship care.

Checking credentials

Right now, there are more than 39,000 certified oncology nurses. That is about one percent of all RNs in the United States. So how can you know if your nurse is certified?

“The best way to know if your nurse is certified is to ask,” said Nickolaus Escobedo, DNP, RN, OCN®, NE-BC, an oncology nurse administrator in Houston, Texas. Escobedo is also president of the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation, a provider of certification for nurses in oncology and related specialties.

“As a consumer, you have the right to know the qualifications of your healthcare providers. And it is ok to ask. Specialty certification is a significant professional achievement. A certified nurse would be happy to tell you more about it,” he added.

If you are uncomfortable asking directly, you can start the conversation by asking your nurse about the credentials on their name badge. You may see letters such as OCN (Oncology Certified Nurse), AOCNP (Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner), Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse (CPHON), BMTCN (Blood and Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse), and others. Ask your nurse what those letters mean.

Quality of care

The quality of nursing care matters. Patients with cancer may spend more time with nurses than any other healthcare provider during treatment and survivorship care. And according to a recent survey by the American Board of Nursing Specialties on the role of nurses in healthcare, 83 percent of adults who received care from a specialty certified nurse were very satisfied with their care.

If you or someone you love is dealing with cancer, ask if your nurses are certified oncology nurses.

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