3 Steps for Transitioning to Oncology Nurse Leadership

By Dotti L. Linderman, BSN, RN, OCN®, Elaine S. DeMeyer, RN, MSN, AOCN®, BMTCN® - Last Updated: November 28, 2022

Have you ever worked somewhere that had workflows and policies that made little sense in the real world of patient care? Of course, many nurses have this experience. It happens every day. Leaders create policies that affect every aspect of your day. Why not have those policies created by a nurse? When nurses start reimagining health care and developing innovative models of care, they improve outcomes and patient experience.

If your organization is lacking in nursing leadership, maybe now is the time for a change. Here are 3 steps to help make the transition to leadership a little easier.

1. Building Your Skill Set

  • Education. At a minimum, earn a bachelor’s degree. Many nurses believe that the skills learned at the bedside are the only ones you need. However, a degree may be the difference between trying to get inside a house by scaling a wall to crawl through a window and walking freely through the door because you have the key. It may create access to leadership roles that you might not have had without it.
  • Experience. Seek opportunities to learn new skills through your current employer or on your own. If you hear about an in-service or class offered, jump on it. Never shy away from a patient care activity that is unfamiliar to you. Instead, participate in several so that you become the expert that everyone turns to. This sets you apart from your peers, and they start to see you as a leader even without formally being one.
  • Growth. Professional development on your own time is a must. If there is a topic or a professional skill you want to learn, reach out to your local Oncology Nursing Society chapter. Many offer scholarships for school, conferences, and continuing education. If you do not have a local nursing group, consider starting a group meeting for networking, peer support, and education. Learn skills even if they do not apply to your current role—you never know when they will come in handy. Stay up to date with technology so you can use tools to work smarter, not harder.

2. Putting Yourself Out There

If your organization has any councils or clinician teams, join them and participate. These activities give you visibility outside of your bubble. It allows managers and executive leaders to know your name and your face. Volunteer for in-services to develop your teaching and presenting skills. Be active in your local nursing community. Most cancer centers and Cancer Support Community facilities welcome volunteers or speakers. Doing this builds the very important skill of networking. Networking puts you in the company of your local experts and leaders who are great resources for learning and possible future career opportunities.

3. Communicating With Your Manager

Make sure that your direct supervisor (and their supervisor, too) knows your goals so they can provide you with opportunities. For example, you may start your leadership path as a backup charge nurse, which leads to a full-time role. While on this path, always stay positive. When coworkers are complaining, redirect conversations to positive ones. It keeps morale high and builds trust from your peers.


Caring for patients is one of the most common reasons nurses give when asked, “Why nursing?” There is no better way to care for patients than to lead those caring for them. So, stop waiting for the right time, or the right opportunity to fall in your lap. Get out there and be the difference. Using these 3 steps can help you achieve your leadership goals and make a difference in patient care.

This article is written by a mentee of beyond Oncology’s Writing Mentorship Program. beyond Oncology pairs oncology nurses with writing and publishing experience (mentors) with nurses who want guidance in having their voices heard through online writing (mentees). To learn more about the program, please visit beyond Oncology.



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