Tag Archives: staffing

Desperately Seeking Oncology Nurses?

Stressed by nurse staffing shortages? Learn how 2017 ACCC Innovator Award winner Loma Linda University Cancer Center tackled this challenge.

By Lexine Thall, MN, RN-BC, AOCN, and Kristina Chase, BSN, RN, OCN

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One of the most challenging issues in healthcare is the ongoing balancing act of staffing and retention. For specialty areas, such as oncology, staffing presents an even more difficult challenge. Finding those perfectly qualified individuals with all the right experience to fill open positions can be a taxing, time-consuming task. As a result, cancer programs may find themselves dealing with lengthy vacancies, which can cause some real strains on a growing clinic and may led to an unhappy environment for nurses and patients. When our cancer program encountered this understaffing dilemma, chemotherapy skilled and oncology experienced (CS-OE) RNs in our cancer center began facing increased workloads, which put them at risk for potential burn out, being vulnerable to making errors, and causing longer wait times for patients.

Our cancer program leadership team had to think outside of the box and create a road map to alleviate some of these staffing strains. An analysis of appointment types and RN skill level needed for each visit type revealed that 40 percent of our supportive care therapies (e.g., hydration, blood transfusions) did not require a CS-OE RN. Given this information, we decided to pilot a program that would fill RN vacancies with experienced non-oncology nurses and create a pathway for these RNs to attain the ONS Chemotherapy/ONCC Chemotherapy Biotherapy Certificate. Our aim was to provide a mentorship program in conjunction with vetted education tools to develop these RNs professionally and alleviate our staffing crisis. The pilot program launched in 2014, and to date, 17 nurses have been accepted into the mentoring program. All RNs who opted to pursue the ONS/ONCC Chemotherapy Biotherapy Certificate (7 of 7) have attained their goal and 86 percent (6 of 7) of the RNs who attained this certification have remained with our organization.

Our mentorship program has drastically decreased the length of time we have unfilled RN positions posted—from an average of 113 days down to 29 days. It has also given many nurses an opportunity to gain focused experience in a specialty area for which many employers may not be willing to bear the educational costs. In addition to the benefit for the non-oncology nurse, the program has provided professional satisfaction and role expansion for the CS-OE RN mentors. A win-win for all parties involved.

At the ACCC 34th National Oncology Conference, October 18-20, 2017, in Nashville, TN, we’ll be sharing the details of our mentorship journey, “how to’s” for developing a program like ours, and some lessons we’ve learned along the way.  I hope you can join us in Nashville!

Hear more from all the 2017 ACCC Innovator Award winners at the ACCC 34th National Oncology Conference, Oct. 18-20, 2017, in Nashville, TN. Learn more.


Lexine Thall, MN, RN-BC, AOCN, is Director, Patient Care, Loma Linda University Cancer Center; Medical Oncology/Hematology; Women’s Cancer/Surgical Oncology; and Kristina Chase, BSN, RN, OCN, is Patient Care Supervisor.