Nancy Houlihan, MA, RN, AOCN®, shares her vision for ONS.
How timely that we are celebrating the contributions that nurses make on global health in 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife in recognition of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday! The world has witnessed the impact nurses have in mitigating the spread of disease and caring for those infected under the most difficult circumstances. We have held true to Nightingale’s principles that “little can be done under the spirit of fear.” 2020 is also the Oncology Nursing Society’s (ONS’s) 45th anniversary, and true to our history, ONS is leading our members and all nurses in caring for people with cancer during this new paradigm.
The year has taught us that the world is an uncertain place. As I work at my cancer center in New York City, I have been struck repeatedly by how similar this experience is to cancer. We live each day with new challenges, adapting to every new twist and turn of the virus and federal recommendations for protection. We have no ability to console ourselves or each other that everything will return to normal by a specific date, and we know that our future is permanently changed, whether because of health, careers, financial security, or lost friends and family members. Yet we hold onto hope and the structures that have always supported us. ONS is always here for our members and all nurses delivering cancer care.
I have been an oncology nurse and ONS member for most of my career and seen the changes in cancer treatment and oncology nursing care that evolved with scientific advances. The Ken Burns documentary, The Gene: An Intimate History, is a reminder of how recently the Human Genome Project unlocked the door to the exploration of what we have come to know as precision medicine and led to breakthroughs in targeted cancer treatments. Oncology nursing practice has kept in time with treatment trends by developing new strategies to recognize and manage toxicities and improve outcomes, safety, and comfort with targeted symptom management. Throughout this evolution, ONS has been a leader in development and support of nursing science, evidence-based practice recommendations, standards of care delivery, and innovative educational programs to ensure that nurses are equipped with the knowledge and skill to care for patients in new ways.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, ONS was quick to recognize the informational needs of oncology nurses in caring for patients. ONS clinical staff developed online resources guiding use of personal protective equipment and appropriate staffing assignments for nurses caring for infected and noninfected patients. A COVID-19–specific community was created as a platform for members to share questions and experiences. ONS partnered with the American Society of Clinical Oncology and others in providing webinars to guide clinicians in the care of patients with cancer during the pandemic.
When I joined the ONS Board one year ago, our world looked very different. The Board spent most of 2019 working with the staff executive leadership team to develop a bold, decade-long strategic plan to prepare oncology nurses for changes in cancer care delivery driven in part by the digital explosion. Our goal was to support innovation with opportunities for creative idea development and use the ONS Center for Innovation to grow our members’ knowledge and skills needed to provide care in new ways.
That goal has not changed with the pandemic. In fact, it’s shown us that our future is now. Our experience with COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on health care and cancer care in particular. The immediate dependence on technology to remotely manage our most vulnerable patients and the response for Medicare reimbursement alone will drastically influence how cancer care is delivered. Oncology nurses rapidly ramped up their skills in communicating in new ways that demonstrated real value to safety and positive outcomes. Crisis breeds opportunity, and forward-thinking nurses will move ahead with what we have tested out of necessity and adopted for the new environment.
ONS is more committed than ever to providing oncology nurses with the skills to lead in the current and post–COVID-19 cancer care world. The ONS Board will focus its agenda on guiding our membership with resources and evidence-based oncology nursing practice standards as technology influences cancer care delivery even more quickly. We will support our chapters in new ways to meet their members’ educational needs using remote platforms. We will collaborate closely with our clinical experts and researchers to grow the science and knowledge and integrate a culture of innovation. We will work with our industry partners to leverage new education technologies until we can gather in our traditional learning halls. We will continue building leaders for the future of ONS and oncology nursing and influencing our legislators about the significant issues in cancer prevention and access to care.
I applaud my fellow nurses all over the globe. We and our patients know how we make a difference—now the world had come to understand and appreciate it firsthand.
Thank you and be safe. The world needs you.