Developing your staff members into nursing professionals

Nurse Leader Insider, November 17, 2016

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New ways to look at competency validation at your facility

Training your nurses and ensuring that they are competent in their skill sets are two of the most important responsibilities of educators. But as the need for validation goes beyond technical skills and focuses on professional development as a whole, the traditional methods of assessment need to be examined in a new light.

“It’s always been important to validate competencies, but how some institutions are choosing to look at it is taking a different spin,” says Sheila St. Cyr, MS, RN-BC, OCN, performance-based development system coordinator at the University of Oklahoma (OU) Medical Center in Oklahoma City. “Now we’re not just looking at technical skills, but we’re validating interpersonal skills as well. It used to be more about the technical skills checklist. And that’s just not how it should be.”

With the recent shift in competency focus, staff developers must arm themselves with the necessary tools to think beyond simply validating skill sets.

Competencies: The new wave

There are two main areas of assessment to focus on, says St. Cyr: competency validation and performance evaluation. Recently, the movement has been to combine the two efforts rather than have an instructor simply check off that a nurse is able to complete a skill.

“Competency validation involves checklists,” she says. “A performance evaluation looks at the whole ability of a nurse that includes the identification of a problem. It’s a process, like reading a story from start to finish.”

Taking this big-picture approach when developing a competency assessment program will positively affect patient care and patient outcomes, as it assists nurses with critical thinking skills and helps them to observe situations on a larger scope, says St. Cyr. The nurses will thus be evaluated as competent in means beyond skill sets, such as their ability to demonstrate that they will be confident when faced with the unexpected. (See p. 5 of the PDF of this issue for a sample form.)

And developing such a program can foster big benefits. According to a recent article in the Journal of Allied Health, “competencies in education create an environment that fosters empowerment, accountability, and performance evaluation [that] is consistent and equitable.”

Developing a definition of competency validation for your facility must take place prior to any assessments, says Diana Swihart, PhD, DMin, MSN, CS, APRN-BC, clinical nurse specialist in nursing education at the Bay Pines (FL) Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.

“Before competency validation can occur, there must be a clear definition of the term uniquely fitted for the organization,” says Swihart.

Some definitions of competency are broader and more complex than others, she adds, and they are usually tied to strategic plans, standards dictated by regulatory agencies, and levels of accountability.

“The goal,” says Swihart, “is to evaluate individual and group performances, meet regulatory agencies’ standards, address problematic or error-prone behaviors or situations, and improve performance reviews at hire, during orientation, and at varied times thereafter.”

Continue reading at Strategies for Nurse Managers.

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