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Core Competencies for the Oncology Nurse Navigator

SHARON FRANCZ, BHA | October 26, 2011
Sharon Francz

Sharon Francz, BHA

Executive Director, President, and Co-founder

National Coalition of Oncology Nurse Navigators

Increasing numbers of cancer treatment programs striving for improvements in efficiency and adherence to care look to nurses as a key element to improved patient outcomes. Over the past 20 years, the concept of patient navigation through a complex and fragmented healthcare system has evolved. Oncology Nurse Navigators (ONNs) have emerged from the field of oncology nursing to answer the call within the healthcare system for patient navigation for all cancer types. The ONN is the clinical professional with the knowledge and skills necessary to assess patient needs and make referrals to appropriate resources and services.

The role of the ONN is evolving as the healthcare delivery system continues to undergo major changes. Internet access and other advances in technology have opened new avenues for patients and family members to educate themselves and gain resource information. This increased capacity to access information has improved care, reduced delays in treatment, and produced an overwhelming amount of resources and information to be interpreted and managed.

Consistent with national trends, the National Coalition of Oncology Nurse Navigators (NCONN) is developing a healthcare ONN model that provides education and support for the professional nurse navigator. ONNs are the clinical professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary to support the cancer patient, the family, and other support persons throughout the entire cancer experience, from point of entry (which is variable) through treatment and survivorship.

Apart from the roles of a licensed nurse, the ONN needs to develop competencies to integrate the roles of healthcare promoter, educator, counselor, care coordinator, case manager, researcher, and patient advocate.”

The ONN is responsible for coordination of care across the continuum. By accompanying the patient through every aspect of his or her cancer journey, the ONN is best positioned to advocate for and provide guidance to patients and their families. The ONN is able to ensure access to the information necessary for the patient to make the best possible decisions about treatment, providing the counsel and advice to improve the patient’s quality of life, and ultimately, improving patient satisfaction. Furthermore, the ONN helps decrease healthcare costs through appropriate utilization of healthcare resources.

Apart from the roles of a licensed nurse, the ONN needs to develop competencies to integrate the roles of healthcare promoter, educator, counselor, care coordinator, case manager, researcher, and patient advocate. Hence, education programs for preparing ONNs must ensure that professional nurse navigators are equipped with the essential competencies that enable them to fulfill these roles competently and ethically.

NCONN core competencies

One of the initial items NCONN addressed when it started was developing the first set of core competencies for the ONN. The core competencies developed serve the following purposes:

  • To frame the philosophy of oncology nurse navigation based on accepted nursing practice.
  • To define the professional role of oncology nurse navigation and the competencies required to successfully fulfill the role.
  • To lead the development of curriculum and navigation models that prepare ONNs to guide and support cancer patients in a safe and ethical manner.
  • To inform healthcare employers and the public of what they may expect from an ONN upon entry to practice.
  • To educate currently practicing ONNs to further develop and/or establish a successful navigation program regardless of practice size, type, or geographical location.

To receive a copy of the ONN Core Competencies, contact NCONN at www.nconn.org.


Hopkins J, Mumber MP. Patient navigation through the cancer care continuum: an overview. J Oncol Pract. 2009;5(4):150-152.

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