Oncology Nursing as a Specialty

Historically, nurses have had a special role in the care of patients with cancer, a role that was especially significant in those few institutions devoted exclusively to cancer care before the National Cancer Act of 1971. However, the expanded research and treatment program against cancer that has occurred during the past quarter century has been a catalyst for the development of oncology nursing as a separate specialty. The recognition of cancer as a major national health problem was key to formally establishing the specialty of oncology nursing. This increased attention to cancer coincided with and complemented a major new emphasis in the nursing profession toward expanded roles in comprehensive patient care. Many oncology nurses first worked both as nurses and data managers for cancer research studies. As oncology called for increasingly more complex therapy, the collaborative relationship between nurse and physician became the best way to provide uniquely comprehensive patient care.

The Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) was established by a small group of nurses working primarily in research settings with medical oncologists involved in clinical research. Their initial goals were to provide a forum for discussing practice issues in cancer nursing and to develop mechanisms for nurses to contribute to this new and evolving specialty area. There was a need to promote the advanced practice of oncology nurses in different care settings and develop national as well as local networking and continuing education programs. Research in cancer nursing subsequently became a high priority of the ONS. The success of this national organization has contributed to the recognition of oncology nursing as a valued specialty. Today, the ONS has a membership of over 28,000 and 209 chapters across the United States. The majority of members (68%) provide direct patient care.9 Educational conferences, publications, legislative activities, and research initiatives are just a few of the concentrated areas of effort. The ONS Foundation, which was established in 1981, awarded almost a million dollars in research grants, scholarships, and awards in 1998 alone.

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