How do you test nurses' competence?

Friday, 19 September 1997

The issue of measuring the quality and competence of nursing in Australia will be tackled in a new national study.

Headed by Professor Alan Pearson from the University of Adelaide, the study has been commissioned by the Australian Nursing Council in a bid to improve current methods of evaluating a nurse's competence.

Recommendations to come from the study could lead to a greater level of competence and therefore quality of service from nurses throughout Australia, which means safer treatment and better care for patients.

Currently, the most common indicator of nurses' competence is determined by the 'recency of practice' clause. This requires nurses renewing their registration to demonstrate that they've been practising nursing continuously or recently. The policy is based on the assumption that nurses who've practised in the previous five years will be more competent than those who haven't practised for a long time.

But Professor Pearson, head of the University of Adelaide's Department of Clinical Nursing, says serious questions have been raised about this method.

"The use of 'recency' to determine professional competence might not be sufficiently rigorous to withstand litigation, nor is it a clear indicator of safe nursing care," he says.

"The idea of this study is to identify a number of factors which enable us to decide that, yes, this particular nurse has remained or is remaining competent in their job. Issues such as continuing education for nurses, ongoing evaluation and the lack of national consistency in this area will all be looked at by the study."

The research project will:

  • consult widely with nurses throughout Australia;
  • identify and develop a statement of clear indicators of nursing competence;
  • provide a description of how these indicators could be applied in the workplace;
  • make recommendations to nursing regulatory authorities about how to improve the current system.

Nurses are urged to participate in the study by sending written submissions or attending an Open Forum to be held in every capital city in Australia.



The first round of consultations will occur in October 1997. The locations of these Open Forums are listed below:

Melbourne October 6: 5.00­7.00pm Charles Le Trobe Lecture Theatre, Ground Floor, Royal Melbourne Hospital

Adelaide October 13: 5.00­7.00pm Stirling Lecture Theatre, Ground Floor, Medical School South, University of Adelaide. Frome Road

Darwin October 17: 2.00­4.00pm Auditorium, Royal Darwin Hospital

Sydney October 20: 5.00­7.00pm Room BG01, Ground Floor, Faculty of Nursing, 88 Mallett Street, Camperdown

Brisbane October 27: 5.00­7.00pm Room N518, Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove

Perth November 7: 5.00­7.00pm Ground Floor Theatrette, Amenities Block. Health Dept of WA, 89 Royal St, Perth East

Hobart November 19: details to be announced.


You are invited to send written submissions to:

Lilian Lazarevic, Project Manager, Australian Nursing Council Inc, Indicators of Continuing Competence in Nursing Research Project, PO Box 3429, Rundle Mall, ADELAIDE SA 5000, phone: (08) 8226 6504.

Submissions are to be forwarded by 25 October 1997.


Contact Details

Ms Robyn Mills
Media and Communications Officer
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 6341
Mobile: +61 410 689 084

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762