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Archive July 2016 XVII, No. 7

Staffing: Do You Get an A+ in Competency Testing?

5 tips to do a better job grading your staff's surgical know-how.

Ann Geier

Ann Geier, RN, MS, CNOR, CASC


staff competencies PROVING GROUNDS Observe staff competencies real-time in actual clinical settings.

Competencies are the professional attributes that make members of your staff good at what they do — the deft touch that guarantees first-stick success when starting IVs, for example, or knowing precisely how to position patients. But my sense is that most administrators can do a better job of testing staff competencies. Here are 5 tips to follow.

Test and retest competencies. Competencies blend knowledge, attitudes and judgment. They're groups of skills and behaviors that are identified as performance standards for a particular job. The skills and understanding needed to become competent at a job develop over time. A knowledge base is needed, but so is experience in the clinical care environment, because there are limits to what one can learn in the classroom. As a general rule, it takes 2 to 3 years of experience in the same job to function at a competent level. That's why you need to constantly assess the growth of each staff member by testing and retesting competencies in all aspects of her assigned roles, including, among other job-specific focuses, immediate-use sterilization, environmental cleaning, malignant hyperthermia response, universal precautions, patient positioning, IV starts and instrument sterilization.

Establish how you'll evaluate each competency. Base the competencies you assess on individual job descriptions and include lists of mandatory requirements in your facility's policies and procedures. Note which competencies are core requirements and which are job-specific responsibilities. Also establish how often each competency is assessed and which staffing positions are assessed. After establishing how each competency will be evaluated, revisit the standards annually to ensure the processes you're using remain valid and current.

Include competency training during initial orientation and annually thereafter. During orientation, include testing of core competencies related to OSHA regulations, blood-borne pathogens, universal precautions, your facility's exposure control plan, staff and patient ergonomics, and fire safety. Also include training about regulatory compliance pertaining to HIPAA laws, workplace safety and risk management, and computer and keyboarding skills for members of the business office.

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