4 Ways Competency-Based Education Is Changing Nursing Education

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Competency-Based Education (CBE) is a learning approach focused on mastering specific skills and competencies, rather than following a fixed curriculum or schedule. Competency-based education in nursing plays a crucial role in preparing nurses for the complexities of modern healthcare. Unlike traditional education methods, which may prioritize time spent in class, competency-based training ensures that nurses acquire the practical skills and knowledge necessary for success in their roles.

Competency-Based Education is significant in nursing education because it meets the evolving needs of the healthcare industry. Nurses require a diverse range of competencies, including clinical skills, critical thinking, and effective communication. By adopting a competency-based approach, nursing education can better prepare students with these essential skills, leading to improved patient care and outcomes.

Furthermore, competency based learning in nursing education emphasizes the importance of measurable outcomes. Students are assessed based on their ability to demonstrate specific competencies, ensuring an objective evaluation of their readiness for clinical practice. In a rapidly changing healthcare environment, where the demand for highly skilled nurses is increasing, competency based learning programs provide a valuable framework for ensuring that nursing graduates are well-prepared to face the challenges of their profession.

Key Principles of Competency-Based Education (CBE) include:

  1. Measurable Learning Outcomes: CBE emphasizes clear and measurable learning objectives, allowing students to demonstrate their proficiency in various competencies.
  2. Skill Mastery: Instead of merely acquiring knowledge, CBE aims for students to master specific skills and apply them effectively in real-world scenarios.
  3. Personalized Learning Paths: CBE recognizes that each student learns at their own pace and provides opportunities for personalized learning paths tailored to individual needs and strengths.
  4. Competency-Based Assessment: Assessment in CBE is based on the demonstration of competencies, ensuring that students can showcase their abilities and understanding of key concepts.
  5. Feedback and Reflection: CBE encourages regular feedback and reflection, enabling students to identify areas for improvement and enhance their skills continuously.

4 Ways Competency-Based Education (CBE) is Transforming Nursing Education

1. Improving Clinical Judgment and Patient Outcomes

Nurses have long made up the largest healthcare workforce, putting them in an outsized position to improve healthcare outcomes. 

However, to do this, nurses must possess a comprehensive set of competencies beyond textbook knowledge, including critical thinking, clinical skills, and the ability to adapt to various patient care situations.

Countless individuals and organizations have pushed for competency-based education in nursing because they want to improve patient outcomes. And for good reason… Alarmingly, just 23% of new registered nurses were found to be competent with basic clinical judgment in 2017. This is despite passing the NCLEX-RN.

Clearly, for outcomes to improve, new nursing professionals must be well-versed in theoretical knowledge and, more importantly, capable of applying their knowledge and skills in real-world situations.

CBE addresses this need by emphasizing measurable, observable skills and outcomes. Rather than progressing through a program based on credit hours or time spent in class, students move forward based on their ability to demonstrate proficiency in specific competencies. In other words, competency-based education shifts education from memorization to mastery.

By establishing and standardizing competencies and entrustable professional activities (EPAs) that students must demonstrate in order to practice safely — as well as making real-time clinical coursework adjustments to reflect students’ needs — nursing schools can more efficiently allocate resources. All while graduating students who are better equipped to face the challenges of an increasingly complex healthcare system.

2. Fostering Greater Communication and Collaboration

There’s ample evidence linking interprofessional collaboration and communication within healthcare teams to better patient and provider outcomes. But equally important is the ability to communicate across cultures.

By focusing on the mastery of competencies, CBE fosters a more collaborative learning environment across cultures and healthcare professions. This approach doesn’t just prepare individuals to excel in their respective roles; it also equips them to thrive in the settings nurses will experience in healthcare.

Interprofessional education within the framework of CBE offers students from varied healthcare disciplines the opportunity to learn with, from, and about each other, encouraging mutual respect and a deeper understanding of how interdisciplinary teams operate. Such an environment is crucial for preparing students to navigate the complexities of real-world healthcare settings, where successful patient outcomes depend on strong collaboration and communication.

When healthcare professionals understand each other’s strengths and how to combine them effectively, the result is a more coordinated, efficient, and patient-centered care delivery system. Similarly, when practitioners are exposed to a greater diversity of cultures, they become more adept at providing care that is inclusive of and empathetic toward different cultures.

3. Requiring Greater Use of Simulation in Education

As mentioned, unlike traditional education models, competency-based education is dynamic. Rather than sticking to a strict curriculum, CBE is free to shift with the needs of learners. This could mean, for example, spending additional clinical training time focused on a particular competency in which students are struggling.

However, making arrangements to add clinicals related to a particular clinical area on short notice is easier said than done, if not outright impossible. This poses a major logistical challenge in administrating competency-based nursing education.

Simulation training offers a solution to this hurdle. Not only is it easier to schedule additional simulation hours for your class than it is to, say, arrange for additional clinical time in a maternity ward. 

Thanks to technological advances in simulation training — as well as Portable debriefing systems that can be deployed anywhere at any time — healthcare educators have more options than ever to address learner needs. Simulation training affords learners the opportunity to make and learn from mistakes via a safe, controlled environment and detailed debrief sessions.

In conjunction with didactic and clinical practicum, hyper-realistic simulation training can further enhance patient outcomes by yielding graduates who are better prepared for the challenges of real-world practice.

4. Transforming the Role of Nurse Educators

The shift to competency in education is undoubtedly a change for learners whose past experiences were largely time- and curriculum-based. For students, this new learning model can initially feel unstructured, and educators should anticipate students needing help settling into it.

But it also represents a major shift for educators. In this new model, educators are not just transmitters of information but observers, coaches, and guides. This role evolution transforms the educational landscape, making learning more interactive, personalized, and reflective of real-world practice.

As observers, educators closely monitor students’ progress, identifying strengths and areas for improvement. This enables them to offer targeted interventions that effectively guide each student’s development. As coaches, they provide the support and encouragement students need to take ownership of their learning, fostering independence and resilience. As guides, educators help navigate the complexities of the curriculum, ensuring that students engage with the material in beneficial ways.

The importance of providing personalized feedback also cannot be overstated. In a competency-based model, feedback is the cornerstone of the learning process, helping students to:

  • Understand where they are in their competency development.
  • Assess what gaps they need to address.
  • Determine how they can improve.
  • Grow confident as capable, competent nurses.

This translates to an experience that is not only more supportive, responsive, and tailored to the individual’s needs but also immensely fulfilling for nurse educators.

5. Improve Employee Retention

Across professions, people working in collaborative environments feel more motivated, engaged, supported, and productive, all of which can go a long way toward mitigating feelings of burnout. And not just that. By facilitating strong working relationships and breaking down silos, team members feel a greater sense of loyalty and are more open to seeking solutions to workplace issues that might otherwise lead to attrition.

The Future of Nursing Education Is Competency-Based

The increasing prominence of nursing competency-based education is a direct response to the evolving demands of healthcare delivery. This educational approach aligns with the needs of patients, healthcare institutions, and the broader healthcare system, focusing on producing graduates ready to deliver high-quality, competent care from day one.

While the adoption of competency based training brings immense benefits, such as enhanced student outcomes and improved workforce readiness, many educational institutions face challenges in navigating this transition smoothly. One of the key concerns is the effective tracking and management of competencies, which plays a crucial role in ensuring program accreditation and meeting reporting requirements.

At Education Management Solutions, we understand these challenges and have developed comprehensive yet user-friendly healthcare competency management software. Our software empowers educators to customize competency frameworks, track learner progression, manage clinical training, and meet accreditation standards seamlessly. With features such as competency tracking, curriculum mapping and a student tracking system, our software is designed to support competency-based curriculum delivery and facilitate competency-based medical education (CBME) effectively.

We invite you to schedule a meeting with us to explore how our healthcare competency management software can support your institution in successfully implementing and managing competency-based education in nursing. Let’s work together to elevate the quality of nursing education and prepare the next generation of competent healthcare professionals.

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