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Legally speaking: Meeting continued competence

Sunday June 22, 2014
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You are probably quite happy with your performance as an RN during the past few years since you have graduated. Promotions, an increase in your salary, and requests that you fill the charge nurse position when needed are all indicative of your good nursing practice. Not only good practice, you might add, but competent practice as well.

Continued competence is an essential issue in nursing practice today. Nurse educators, practicing nurses, professional nursing organizations such as the American Nurses Association and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, and state boards of nursing have been, and continue to, focus on how to identify, measure and ensure continued competency in nursing. This is no easy task, as you can imagine. Although licensure to practice professional nursing is one of the first steps that, if completed, signifies initial competency, the next dilemma is how to ascertain continued competency to practice safely and without risk to patients throughout a nurseís career.

In addition to the important and difficult task that boards of nursing have to guarantee continued competence in nursing practice, other mechanisms exist to help reach this goal. These mechanisms have been identified and developed through dialogue, research, observation and analysis of existing mechanisms.

One such mechanism is the focus on continuing education. Although not perfect, it is a way to increase competence in nursing practice, especially in the form of interactive programs, simulations and e-learning. In an attempt to aid in the development of continued competence for nurses, many states have passed legislation mandating CE for continued licensure.

Another way to meet continuing competence is through certification by nationally recognized and accredited nursing certification boards, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the Competency & Credentialing Institute. Continued certification provides for initial recognition of competency and because certification must be renewed regularly, underscores your knowledge of updates on current practices and changes in your nursing specialty.

A third method of continuing competence, and one you probably are very familiar with, is advanced education in an accredited nursing education program. As early as 2000, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing took the position that the baccalaureate degree in nursing be the minimal educational requirement for professional nursing practice. Likewise, the Institute of Medicineís The Future of Nursing report recommended an increase from 50% to 80% of nurses with baccalaureate degrees should take place by 2020, with a doubling of the number of nurses with doctoral degrees by the same year.

It seems clear, then, that the best choice for your continued competence is through continuous learning, both at the formal and informal level, to provide your patients with the most up-to-date, quality care that you can deliver and also bestow upon yourself a level of competent practice above the norm.

To see what else is trending, visit www.Nurse.com/BSN-Education.


ancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is Nurse.com's legal information columnist and an attorney in private practice. This article is for educational purposes only and is not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Post a comment below or email specialty@nurse.com.