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Oncology Nursing Certification and Why Certification Matters to Nurses, Patients and Families

The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) started its first certification examination in 1986. Currently, there are over 37,400  nurses who have received ONCC certification, holding over 38,700 credentials.

ONCC offers eight credential programs, including Oncology Certified Nurse, Certified Pediatric Hematology Oncology Nurse, Blood and Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse and Certified Breast Care Nurse.

“It demonstrates seasoned knowledge and experience in cancer care,” says Becky O’Shea, a registered nurse and president of Board of Directors of ONCC. “It really is a significant achievement. Only about one percent of RNs in the U.S. are certified in oncology nursing.”

Getting Certified

Oncology nursing is a career, not just a job, says O’Shea, who calls getting certified “a responsibility because we want to provide the best care we can for our patients.”

Each three-hour certification test features 165 multiple-choice questions in specified subject areas. To take the exam, an applicant must be a registered nurse for one year or longer and have worked at least 1000 hours in oncology. Certification is valid for four years.

Nurses study for the rigorous exam for months before taking the test at one of over 300 test centers at across the country. Nurses who don’t pass can sign up to retest, taking the exam up to three times. After that, they need to wait a year before testing again.

While certification is not mandatory, many hospitals and facilities require it for their nurses. Often employers will pay for nurses to get certified too, either paying upfront or providing reimbursement after certification.

Confidence Building

Nurses feel pride in their knowledge and skills and report their certification boosts their competence and job performance.

“Data shows nurses who are certified are more confident, and when they’re more confident they’ll do a better job,” says Cynthia Miller Murphy, a registered nurse who’s also Executive Director of the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation.

Certification may also increase a nurse’s salary and career standing.

“They become mentors for other nurses and they become recognized as leaders in the facility by their colleagues, physicians and others,” she says. “That continues to boost their confidence.”

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