Nursing is a rewarding profession that is increasingly in demand as populations and healthcare needs grow. It’s attracting rising numbers of professionals from diverse fields who are looking to transfer their existing skills and switch careers to one that will offer them many opportunities for growth.
If you’re one of the increasing number of people who are considering retraining as a nurse, then you will most likely have lots of questions. One of these will be how to acquire and fulfill your competencies so that you are prepared to qualify and become a registered nurse (RN). You will also probably be wondering how to further develop these skills as you set out as a newly qualified professional.
This article will answer these questions for you and will explain how you could build on your degree in another field and retrain as a nurse. You will also discover how changing careers with an accelerated nursing program could mean that you are able to enter this highly rewarding profession sooner than you thought possible.
Essential nurse competencies
In recent years, nursing education has shifted toward competency-based education (CBE). This means that nursing programs are designed so that students and newly qualified nurses learn a raft of necessary skills to deliver quality care as they progress through their studies and careers.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has devised a framework called The Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education (The Essentials), which has 10 domains and eight core concepts, along with sub-competencies for each of the domains. This framework sets out a foundation for nurses.
The 10 domains are broad areas of competence that are essential to nursing practice. They are as follows:
- Domain 1: Knowledge for Nursing Practice
- Domain 2: Person-Centered Care
- Domain 3: Population Health
- Domain 4: Scholarship for the Nursing Discipline
- Domain 5: Quality and Safety
- Domain 6: Interprofessional Partnerships
- Domain 7: Systems-Based Practice
- Domain 8: Informatics and Healthcare Technologies
- Domain 9: Professionalism
- Domain 10: Personal, Professional, and Leadership Development
Within these domains are the concepts – ideas representing important knowledge that can be applied across many different situations. These are:
- Clinical Judgment
- Compassionate Care
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Evidence-Based Practice
- Health Policy
- Social Determinants of Health
One of the key competencies for Domain 1, Knowledge for Nursing Practice, is the ability to “Demonstrate clinical judgment founded on a broad knowledge base”. This requires the nurse to integrate the knowledge they have learned as part of their nursing program with a broader base, gleaned through previous study or life experience, combining the two to inform their decisions.
In Domain 2, Person-Centered Care, nurses must demonstrate the ability to communicate effectively with individuals. This requires a variety of sub-competencies, including the application of emotional intelligence and the ability to lead conversations on difficult subjects. Communication skills are a cornerstone of this profession as nurses must have an innate willingness to connect with patients, their families and carers, and other professionals to perform even the most basic tasks.
One of the competencies highlighted for Domain 3, Population Health, is the ability to demonstrate advocacy strategies. For equitable population health to be achieved, healthcare professionals such as nurses must advocate for underrepresented groups. They can do this by building relationships with stakeholders and demonstrating leadership skills so that equity and inclusion are at the forefront of healthcare policy and delivery.
Integrating best evidence into nursing practice is a core competency of Domain 4, Scholarship for the Nursing Discipline. This means that nurses must have the skills and confidence to evaluate evidence and incorporate the best evidence into their day-to-day practice to achieve quality outcomes for patients.
Domain 5, Quality and Safety, lists are contributing to a culture of patient safety as a key competency. Nurses may do this by understanding their role within a team to promote safety and prevent errors and by designing interventions to reduce or eliminate risk.
Domain 6, Interprofessional Partnerships, describes the collaboration required with a wide range of stakeholders from patients and their families through to colleagues and other professionals to enhance the quality of patient care. Nurses may demonstrate this by communicating in a professional and timely manner, resolving interprofessional conflict, and acting as a role model for inclusion, equity and diversity in team communication modalities.
For Domain 7, Systems-Based Practice, nurses must be able to navigate healthcare systems to deliver safe and quality care. Competencies to achieve this include recognizing system processes that impact on coordination of care and in leadership roles and designing policies to address health inequalities.
In Domain 8, Informatics and Healthcare Technologies, competencies include effectively using digital communication tools and apps and utilizing technology to collect data, increase knowledge and understand healthcare issues.
Competencies that represent Domain 9, Professionalism, include complying with regulations, laws and policies. This can include supporting policies that promote health and/or allow nurses to exercise the whole scope of expertise and knowledge they have learned as part of their training.
Finally, in Domain 10, Personal, Professional, and Leadership Development, essential competencies include developing a capacity for leadership, which involves understanding leadership principles and styles and acknowledging the nurse’s role as a leader in shaping healthcare policies and practices.
Note that this is just a snapshot of the many and varied competencies required from nurses. For a full understanding, refer to The Essentials to brush up on your knowledge of competencies for your nursing career.
How to achieve core competencies
Whether you’re a student or a qualified nurse, you can achieve your competencies in a wide variety of ways. This may be within a pre- or post-licensure study program or via continued professional development as you progress through your career.
For undergraduate nurses, clinical experiences are especially valuable. Here, you have the chance to apply theoretical learning to real-life scenarios. In fact, every nurse education program requires students to take part in direct patient care across the four spheres of care: Wellness, Disease and Prevention, Chronic Disease Care, Hospice/Palliative Care and Regenerative/Restorative Care.
These experiences take place within a variety of specialties and across different communities, and students are required to provide evidence of participation to show that competencies have been achieved.
Learning using simulation is another important way to demonstrate a grasp of clinical competencies. Simulation provides a safe and effective way for both students and qualified nurses to develop their competencies, complementing direct patient care.
Competency may also be attained through immersion experiences. Here, you shadow your preceptor and follow their regular schedule. This enables you to develop your clinical reasoning and decision-making skills in a safe and controlled environment. At the same time, you will develop your self-confidence and identity within the nursing profession, laying the foundations for future roles involving management or leadership.
Once you’ve graduated and qualified as a registered nurse, you can continue to develop your professional competencies through advanced-level nursing programs. You can do this through advanced-level practice experiences, which build on existing competencies. These may focus on a particular specialty or may encompass a range of clinical areas. Advanced practical experiences may also have a creative approach to learning, using the latest technology or simulation methodologies to provide the necessary experience to nurses.
If you’re on an advanced program of education, you may also be required to produce a project or scholarly work that addresses a specific issue, with an end goal of improving clinical practice. This is likely to involve identifying an issue, searching the current literature to understand the solutions available, and constructing a method, plan or scheme to address the original problem. Finally, an evaluation of the process and a proposed solution are carried out.
Throughout your career as a nurse, you may also take part in, devise or lead research projects to identify and test new ways of working to enhance patient care. This is yet another way that you can check off required competencies, demonstrating a high level of education and commitment to continued professional development.
Fulfilling competencies is a continual requirement for nurses, regardless of the stage of their career – from undergraduate right through to experienced nurse.
One of the most valuable ways that you can continue to refresh or fulfill competencies is through continued professional development. This may take the form of a formal program of study, self-directed study, attendance at professional events such as conferences, or through leading or taking part in research projects.
Understanding, reviewing and checking off competencies throughout your journey means that you can keep up with a rapidly changing healthcare landscape and deliver high-quality, responsive care to diverse patient communities.
Are you interested in a career as a nurse?
If you’re approaching a nursing career as a graduate in another discipline, then you will have many transferable skills that can form a sound foundation for your new career.
For example, it’s clearly set out in the Knowledge for Nursing Practice domain, described in The Essentials, that nurses should use skills and expertise they have learned in other disciplines to inform clinical decisions.
If you’ve already studied for a degree in a non-nursing subject, then you will certainly have a wealth of previously gained knowledge on which to build your new career.
Second degree nursing programs are designed with experienced candidates in mind, equipping them with the knowledge and experience needed to sit the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and achieve registered nurse (RN) status.
Often, these programs are accelerated so that they can be completed within a matter of months and are delivered online, offering a number of advantages. Studying online allows you to learn at your own pace and at a time and location that suits you. This flexible mode of learning means that you can fit your study around your other commitments without having to worry about traveling to campus at set times.
Studying for the Marymount University second degree nursing program online, which is Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredited, is one such route into the rewarding profession of nursing. Marymount’s Online Accelerated BSN (ABSN) program draws on many of the competencies described in The Essentials – for example, its module on Research and Evidence-Based Practice introduces students to the research process and procedures, and how to apply them to nursing practice with an end goal of bettering patient care.
Other modules deal with professional nursing and scholarship and the skills needed to perform an effective health assessment, such as communication. Learning these topics and technical skills reflect the competencies set out in The Essentials, reinforcing the key knowledge and skills needed to provide excellent nursing care. Students who are able to achieve the required competencies through a combination of their online studying, on-campus residency with hands-on experience and clinical placements in Virginia, with the help of a placement coordinator will be able to enter the nursing profession with a list of completed competencies, and knowledge of how to complete the outstanding competencies.
The program at Marymount University is open to graduates of degrees in any discipline from an accredited US college or university who fulfill certain entry requirements. Once accepted, the program can be completed in just 16 months, allowing you to progress to the NCLEX exam and start working as a registered nurse. This means that you can start making a real difference to your community sooner than you thought possible.
Prospects for nurses
Once you’ve graduated and passed your NCLEX exam, a world of opportunities opens up to you. Nursing is a wide and varied profession, with many different specialties to choose from.
If you enjoy building relationships with patients over the long term and promoting health and wellbeing as much as treating diseases, then you may consider working in primary care, perhaps as a family nurse practitioner (FNP).
If you prefer working in a dynamic setting where no two days are the same, then you could consider opting for a career in acute care. This could be in the emergency room or on a surgical or intensive care ward. You may also opt to specialize in caring for a particular sector of society – for example, seniors, women or children.
If you have a desire to see others achieve mental wellbeing, then psychiatric nursing could be a great choice for you. Here, you can empower your patients to achieve emotional balance and support them to reach a place of peace and purpose. Regardless of the path you choose, nursing is one of the fastest-growing professions in the US, with nurses highly in demand for their many skills and expertise. With competitive salaries and diverse opportunities, it’s a highly rewarding career that allows you to help others achieve their wellbeing goals and change the healthcare landscape for the better.
Build a firm foundation for the future
Without a doubt, nursing is a demanding profession. There’s a lot to learn and many competencies to work through to enable you to qualify in the first place. Also, as you progress through your career, you must continue to demonstrate your commitment to continued professional development and keep up to date with the latest trends in healthcare.
With the right education and support behind you, you can work through the competencies needed to qualify as a registered nurse – skills that will provide a solid foundation for a long and satisfying career, making a real difference to the quality of people’s lives.
If this appeals to you, then consider enrolling in the Marymount University Online Accelerated BSN (ABSN) program. It covers everything you need to know to take the NCLEX, with support provided by experienced faculty and administrative staff along the way. Take the first step toward the career of your dreams by finding out more about this highly regarded course. It’s designed for candidates just like you, to reflect your passions, strengths and goals and create a firm foundation for your future.