Getting SMART About Your Oncology Professional Development Goals

By Kate B. Hubbard, MSN, RN, OCN®, NPD-BC - May 11, 2023

Do you need a boost in your professional development as an oncology nurse? Do you struggle to get started or stay motivated to reach your goal? Setting a SMART goal may give you the jump start you need to achieve your goal and propel your professional development. Oncology nurses can find purpose and fulfillment in setting, planning, and achieving professional goals, resulting in decreased burnout and more career satisfaction. A well-established tool, such as the SMART format, can take goal setting one step further, improving the likelihood of success. Although the SMART format can be used for any type of goal setting, it is an excellent tool for oncology nurses seeking professional development growth.

What Is a Professional Development Goal?

Professional development is gaining, refining, or mastering skills or education after employment. Think of professional development as part of proficiency ranging from novice to expert. Professional development goals are personal objectives to help oncology nurses further their careers. Although oncology nurses may consider professional development goals as a tactic to advance or find a new position, they are also an engagement strategy in their current work. Goals can enhance your current skills to affect patients or your team more significantly within your organization or community.

Examples Professional Development Goals for Oncology Nurses

Professional development goals are very personal objectives to give your work direction and purpose. For oncology nurses, professional development goals may help nurses be able to:

  • Obtain a new oncology certification (Oncology Certified Nurse [OCN®], Certified Breast Care Nurse [CBCN®], Blood & Marrow Transplant Certified Nurse [BMTCN®])
  • Develop patient education material on a new procedure in your department
  • Speak at a patient support group or oncology educational event
  • Become a unit preceptor or mentor
  • Join or lead an oncology nursing committee or council
  • Write for a publication (eg, blog, online news source, journal)
  • Assist with or start a patient cancer support group
  • Help implement a quality improvement project
  • Join a local Oncology Nursing Society chapter

What Makes a Goal “SMART”?

A professional development goal becomes “SMART” when it outlines how you will accomplish it. SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant/realistic, and time-bound. An organized and specific goal is easier to visualize and, therefore, easier to achieve. Using this format, you can clearly outline your ideas, focus your efforts, allocate your time and resources, and increase your chances of meeting your goal.

Consider using the SMART framework for both professional and personal goals. Often, goals can be overwhelming or daunting, but breaking them down into smaller steps can motivate you. Reflect on this New Year’s resolution: read more books. Change it into a SMART goal: read 1 book each month.

How to Turn Professional Goals Into SMART Goals?

Making a professional development “SMART” can be done by answering the following questions:


What do I want to accomplish? Why is this goal important? Who is involved? Where will this take place? Which necessary resources are available or limited in reaching this goal?


How will I measure my progress? How much? How many? How will I know when I have accomplished my goal?


Is this goal realistic? Do I have what I need to be successful? How will I accomplish the goal?


Why is it important to me or others? Is the timing right? Am I the right person to meet this goal?


When will I achieve the goal I have set? In 4 weeks? In 6 months? What action steps do I need to take today?

Examples of SMART Professional Development Goals in Oncology Nursing

As you review the examples of SMART professional development goals, notice how each goal outlines actions and timelines to accomplish the overall goal.

Goal: I will pass the Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN®) examination.

SMART Goal: I will pass the Oncology Certified Nurse examination by the end of 2023. I will create a study plan using the OCN® Test Content Outline and set aside time each week to study for the exam. In addition, I will take an online review course 3 months before the exam. Preparing for this exam will provide me new knowledge and confidence in caring for my patients with cancer.

Goal: I will mentor new chemotherapy nurses on my unit.

SMART Goal: I will mentor new chemotherapy nurses on my unit by becoming a unit preceptor. I will share my goal with my nurse manager and ask to register for preceptor training my hospital offers next month. In addition, I will attend online seminars, read oncology journals, and study chemotherapy standards to stay current on best practices. Being a preceptor is a great way to share my knowledge with other nurses and ensure patients on my unit receive excellent care.

Goal: I want to improve patient safety in my infusion center.

SMART Goal: I want to improve patient safety in my infusion center by creating a quality improvement committee with my coworkers. I will meet with my manager to discuss my idea and then form a team to meet monthly to discuss ideas for improving safety. Our team will work on the selected quality improvement project and present our results to our department at its quarterly Cancer Committee meeting.

SMART goals may be the key to helping you get SMARTer in achieving your professional goals. What will your first SMART goal be?


The Use of SMART Goals in Nursing

Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation: Get Certified

Oncology Nursing Society Chapters

OCN Test Content Outline