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Clear expectations

Removing the inconsistencies in how students are assessed will result in a better prepared workforce.

Newly registered nurses will be better able to ‘hit the ward running’ in the high-pressure environment of the nation’s hospitals and care facilities with the development of a national competency assessment tool.

The result of an ALTC-funded project, the pilot guidelines seek to address the lack of consistency that exists in the competency of nursing graduates. This, says those behind the project, will ensure reliable clinically-based learning for pre-registration bachelor of nursing students, better preparing them for nursing registration and the everyday challenges of work in a clinical environment.
Project team leader Professor Patrick Crookes says some more experienced nurses felt that their newer colleagues were less well-prepared for the rigours of the busy clinical environments than they should be.

He saw an obvious link between this and the inconsistencies in how nursing students are assessed against competency standards by different institutions.

“At present there are 39 nursing programs in Australia, each using its own clinical assessment tool. This lack of parity creates the potential for different outcomes for newly registered nurses within and between programs,” he says.

While these tools are based on the ANMC Competencies they can focus on different technical nursing skills. These differences prove difficult for clinical colleagues who are often called upon to take part in the clinical assessment of pre-registered nursing students from different universities – particularly in a situation where nursing students from different unis are in the same clinical area at the same time but being assessed differently.

The project aimed to address these issues by developing a new nationally agreed competency assessment tool for pre-registration nursing students, ensuring that the needs of both education and clinical service providers are met.

“Currently, what constitutes a competent newly graduating nurse isn’t clearly agreed across the profession. All new grads must have achieved competence against the professional standards but there is no clear articulation of what it is reasonable to expect in terms of a skill set,” says Crookes.
The new tool has two components. The first part is designed to be used on each clinical placement the student attends throughout their course. It is anticipated the student will demonstrate growth in terms of their ability to demonstrate developing clinical competence during their program of study. The document has shaded portions to show the expected minimum level the student will achieve during that part of the program on that placement.

The eight competency assessments will be completed by the student over the duration of the program. Their locations within the course of study will be different for each university depending on the structure of their curriculum.

It is hoped the project will not only improve the quality of nursing care, but also help to retain graduate nurses in the profession,” says Crookes.

“New nurses really need to feel like they are doing a good job. If they’re clear about what’s expected of them, they can feel confident that they’re doing that, and are more likely to stick at it. If they remain committed to the profession this will ultimately improve outcomes for patients too.”
The project team hopes to trial the national competency assessment tool across a range of different institutions over the next 12 to 18 months.

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