Oncology Nursing and Oncology Nursing Society History and Timeline

This timeline shows a few key milestones in the history of cancer nursing leading up to the formation of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS). 

After the first National Cancer Nursing Research Conference in 1973, 20 oncology nurses discussed the need for a national organization to support their profession. ONS was created after this initial meeting. Those 20 nurses used word-of-mouth to spark interest among their colleagues to launch this organization. 

Over the years, we have grown to include more than 35,000 members and are now known as the standards bearer of advanced cancer care. Here are the highlights of our amazing journey. 


February 1947: Katherine Nelson, an early founder of ONS, teaches the first university course in cancer nursing in the United States at Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases in New York, NY.1 

Black and white aged image of crowded room with women sitting in chairs

1949: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves nitrogen mustard (mechlorethamine) for the treatment of cancer.


1950: Katherine Nelson teaches a cancer nursing course to the first class of Black public health nurses at the University of North Carolina.

Black and white aged image of a classroom with African American female students sitting in chairs as Caucasian female, Katherine Nelson, teaches at the front of the class
  • National Cancer Institute researchers demonstrate that combination chemotherapy induces partial and complete remissions and prolongs survival in children and adults with acute leukemia.4 
  • Edith Wolf (far right, with glasses), an early founder of ONS, participates in St. John's University Nurses Congress, "Changing Times."


Black and white aged image of four women sitting at a desk smiling toward the camera, a chalk board in the background

1971: President Richard Nixon signs the National Cancer Act, which establishes national cancer research centers and national cancer control programs.6 


1973: The first National Cancer Nursing Research Conference is held.

Scanned image of aged, yellowed document with typed text of the first cancer nursing newsletter
  • ONS is incorporated on July 17, 1975 in Illinois.
Scanned image of document with typed text that announces the formalization of ONS as an organization
  • In January 1976, ONS charter membership is recorded at 488 members.
  • ONS is accepted into the National Federation of Specialty Nursing Organizations.
  • ONS's first journal, the Oncology Nursing Forum , is indexed in the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature and in the International Nursing Index.

ONS’s first building – 701 Washington Road, Mount Lebanon, PA 

Street view of a light tan and reddish brown building with larger numbers on the front reading 701
  • ONS conducts our first research priorities survey.
  • The first ONS chapters, Chicago and Cleveland, are chartered.
  • ONS Hires Pearl Moore, RN, MN, FAAN, as its first executive director.
1984 1984
  • The Oncology Nursing Press, Inc., a for-profit subsidiary of ONS, is incorporated.
  • ONS becomes an American Nurses Association-accredited approver and provider of continuing education.
  • Eighteen ONS special interest groups (SIGs) are established.
  • Meeting a longstanding goal of the Society, an ONS member is appointed to the National Cancer Advisory Board by President George H.W. Bush.
  • Oncology Education Services, Inc. (OES) is incorporated.
1997 1997
  • ONS moves into its new national headquarters at 125 Enterprise Drive in Pittsburgh, PA.
ONS Headquarters
  • Paula Rieger, RN, MSN, CAE, FAAN becomes ONS's second chief executive officer.
  • Putting Evidence into Practice (PEP) makes its debut in the form of cards. 
  • ONS and American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) develop the first national standards for the safe administration of chemotherapy drugs, updated in 2016.
  • OES is renamed ONS Edge, Inc.
  • ONS gets new branding and introduces today’s logo.
ONS logo
  • The first ONS public policy advocate is hired to help raise awareness for cancer nurses, patients, and research.
  • The first-ever ONS initiated legislation is introduced in Congress: Assuring and Improving Cancer Treatment Education and Cancer Symptom Management Act of 2008.
Assuring and Improving Cancer Treatment Education and Cancer Symptom Management Act of 2008
  • Then-ONS President Brenda Nevidjon, MSN, RN, FAAN, is present at the White House as President Obama signs into law the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
  • ONS introduces its patient-focused publishing imprint, Hygeia Media, and launch its first books.
  • ONS is granted full membership into the Alliance for Nursing Informatics (ANI).
  • The Educator Resource Center is launched, with teaching tools for incorporating oncology topics into nursing degree programs.
  • ONS and ONCC launch the Radiation Oncology Nursing Certificate Program.
  • ONS receives a grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to test new strategies for improving the quality of cancer care.
  • ONS is awarded Accreditation with Distinction as a provider of continuing nursing education, the highest recognition awarded by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s (ANCC’s) Accreditation Program.
  • The number of ONS chapters exceeds 220.
  • Brenda Nevidjon, RN, MSN, FAAN, becomes ONS’s third chief executive officer.
  • Oncology Nursing Forum is ranked first for impact factor from among 106 journals in the nursing category.
  • ONS hosts a congressional briefing on palliative care.
  • The ONS/ONCC Chemotherapy Biotherapy Certificate Course is launched; more than 40,000 participants register in its first year.
  • Then-ONS President Mary Gullatte, PhD, RN, ANP, BC, AOCN®, FAAN, was appointed to the Joint Commission Nursing Advisory Council for the 2014–2016 term.
Image of two people shaking hands
  • ONS receives the American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Award in the consumer health category. This Should Not Be Happening: Young Adults With Cancer, written by Dr. Anne Katz, took first place. 
  • Digital Book Cover of This Should Not Be Happening Young Adults with Cancer
  • An ONS member is appointed by President Obama to the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB).
  • ONS launches a Quality Clinical Data Registry (QCDR).
  • ONS narrows its core values to three: innovation, excellence, and advocacy.
  • PEP continues to evolve, publishing A Guide to Oncology Symptom Management (second edition)
  • ONS CEO Brenda Nevidjon, RN, MSN, FAAN, is invited by Vice President Biden's staff to be on the roundtable panel at Duke University to discuss the moonshot initiative. Also, Vice President Biden holds additional moonshot roundtables later in February in which two ONS members represent oncology nursing.
  • ONS member and past president Deborah K. Mayer, PhD, RN, AOCN®, FAAN, is appointed to the National Cancer Institute Blue Ribbon Panel to advise the NCAB as part of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative. She is the only nurse appointed.
  • Three ONS members are appointed to the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative Blue Ribbon Panel working groups, which will identify major areas of opportunity that could lead to significant breakthroughs in cancer research.
  • ONS secures office space in Washington, DC, to open the first satellite office on Capitol Hill.
  • ONS launches ONS Communities—a virtual discussion platform for members to network and share information and experiences with colleagues across the country and around the world. The Communities were previously the ONS SIGs that were established in 1989. 

  • ONS and ASCO updated the national standards for the safe administration of chemotherapy drugs. 

  • ONS is invited by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to represent oncology nursing on the National Cancer Policy Forum (NCPF) and in a series of NCPF workshops. 
  • ONS participates in 16 international meetings in the Netherlands, Cuba, Oman, China, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, United Arab Emirates, Philippines, and Canada to promote quality cancer care globally.
  • ONS officially launches the Center for Advocacy and Health Policy to provide a daily presence on Capitol Hill.
  • ONS appoints its first scholar-in-residence to provide strategic direction, ensuring ONS’s resources meets the needs of people with cancer, as well as those of nurse researchers in cancer care.
  • ONS CEO Brenda Nevidjon, RN, MSN, FAAN, is appointed to the Biden Cancer Initiative Advisory Panel and co-led a patient navigation session at the Biden Cancer Summit.
  • ONS creates an Immunotherapy Wallet Card in English and Spanish to bridge communication and facilitate patient and healthcare professional understanding of recent and historic cancer treatment.
  • For the inaugural ONS Capitol Hill Day, 110 oncology nurses hold 330 meetings with the offices of U.S. senators and representatives to influence decision-making on pending bills related to nursing, cancer, opioids, coordination of care, and palliative care.
ONS Capitol Hill Days 2018
  • ONCC hires Tony Ellis, CAE, as its second executive director.
  • ONS launches Center for Innovation to develop innovative new resources, projects, and applications to meet oncology nurses' emerging needs.
  • The Oncology Nursing Foundation hires Anizia Karmazyn as new Executive Director to increase support for oncology nursing education, research, and leadership.
  • The Oncology Nursing Podcast begins offering NCPD and is downloaded more than 100,000 times.
  • Lori Brown becomes Executive Director of ONS.
  • After years of planning and saving, ONS pays off the mortgage on the Pittsburgh headquarters.
  • The Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) launched its inaugural ONS Hackathon™ on November 9, 2020, a competition designed to identify innovative ways to address challenging issues in the delivery of quality cancer care. 
  • In response to Covid-19, ONS cancels the 45th annual Congress in San Antonio, and creates the virtual event, ONS Bridge.
  • ONS CEO Brenda Nevidjon, RN, MSN, FAAN, is invited to the White House to advocate for nursing and discusses cancer, Covid-19, and the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage for healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • ONS launches five clinical practice guidelines providing evidence-based symptom management recommendations for patient care. 
Brenda Nevidjon at White House regarding COVID-19
  • ONS launches ONS On-Demand™, a new business-to-business content distribution platform, to improve course purchase, assignment, and utilization review for employers.
  • ONS's core values are updated to add inclusivity.
  • ONS collaborates with the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Foundation (HPNF), Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA), Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network (SWHPN), and Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) to develop free video series on grief for frontline providers.
  • ONS releases its Cancer Basics course in Spanish.
  • Six oncology-focused professional and patient organizations, including ONS, published the Oncology Navigation Standards of Professional Practice for use in professional oncology navigation care. With input from many major navigation-focused professions, the standards guide best practices for care providers across cancer settings.  
  • ONS launches the Learning Extension Activities Plan (LEAP) to help faculty members teach oncology to nursing students. 
  • ONS releases the first-of-its-kind Biomarker Database, a clinical decision support (CDS) tool that connects clinical professionals to information about therapeutic options for certain cancers and their associated biomarkers. 
  • ONS On-Demand™ reaches more than 100 institutions. 
  • ONCC is rebranded and receives a new logo. 
Purple letters ONCC with text underneath saying "Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation"
  • ONS hires Angie Stengel, CAE, as executive director of Oncology Nursing Foundation.  
  • The Oncology Nursing Podcast reaches 1 million downloads! 
  • Then–ONS President Danya Garner, PhD, RN, NPD-BC, OCN®, CCRN, and ONS CEO Brenda Nevidjon, RN, MSN, FAAN, present at President Biden’s Cancer Panel. 
  • ONS transitions On-Demand into ONS All-Access™, an organizational purchasing program that includes group purchasing, volume discount pricing, usage reports, special previews, and more for books, courses, and other ONS products.