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Make Staff Competency a Pleasure to Measure
Chris Rosenthal
Publish Date: October 10, 2007   |  Tags:   Staffing

We've taken the tedium out of measuring and documenting staff competency, turning a bore of a chore into a one-day fair that's enjoyable, economical and effective. Read on to find out if this is an idea that could work at your facility.

From ORs to fairgrounds
Each employee is required to attend one of the two competency fairs we hold in May and November. We pay staff to attend (regular salary rate, not overtime) and let them vote for the day and time the fair is held. I think that's an important point. This is something your staff doesn't like anymore than you do, so they need to have a voice in the process. We've held fairs on Saturdays, but this year our surgical team voted to hold the event on a Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

In ORs and hallways, we set up about 20 stations that test different skill sets, including the proper use of defibrillators and placing central IV lines. We set up stations for specific instruments in the ORs where the items are used. It has the look and feel of a conference's exhibition hall; staff are free to roam the area and complete skills at their own pace. We also provide food: bagels, fruit, coffee and juice for fairs in the morning, and hot dogs, chips and sodas for afternoon sessions.

We're lucky to have a nurse educator who organizes and prepares the fair. Her job is to ensure that prepared and competent presenters, including some on our own staff, man each station. If you don't have a nurse educator, a clinical coordinator, RN, anesthesia tech or surgical tech could easily team up to plan the fair. Tell those who volunteer that the effort will look great on their annual evaluation. Equipment reps are also excellent sources for teaching staff how to use their products, and they'll be more than happy to get involved.

Rules of the games
Each attendee must clock in and change into scrubs. An instruction sheet details the location of and task required at each skill station (written test, verbal test or demo). The instructions break down for each category of employee (RNs, OR techs, support staff, orderlies, anesthesia techs) the booths they must visit. There's a space for each presenter to sign off when the employee meets the station's competency standard. Once an employee completes each required task, she brings the sheet to me. I ensure that all competencies have been covered, date and sign the sheet and file it away.

Chris Rosenthal, RN, BS, CNOR

We encourage staff to jump around from station to station to avoid logjams at each booth. I've found staff tend to first complete the tasks they enjoy. That actually helps keep manageable numbers of employees at each booth. We allot four hours for finishing the fair because we want staff to come and go as they please, to relax and enjoy themselves in a non-rushed atmosphere. I do find, however, that most employees can hit all the stations in about two hours.

Just as the proper setup is essential to a competency fair's success, so too is approaching the event with the right attitude. Make it fun for the employees. I collected as many free giveaways as I could from the AORN Congress (things such as T-shirts, key chains, pens, hats, stuffed animals and stress toys) and used them as prizes during our fair. Whenever a nurse completes a task, it's a good idea to have the presenter hand her a little token of appreciation.

Why it works
Aside from being a fun way to maintain staff competencies, this kind of fair makes a lot of sense for management. Planning the event takes about 80 hours of prep time throughout the year. At $30 per hour for a nurse manager, that adds up. But it's a one-time investment. Once you've planned your first fair, the basics remain the same, decreasing planning time and staff expense for future events.

Also keep in mind that the time spent educating staff in small groups over a month's time adds up to 32 hours or more, piling on avoidable payroll expense. The fair, in contrast, lasts four hours. That's a huge savings.

In additional to financial savings, the fair is an excellent tool for meeting accreditation requirements. Accrediting agencies want to see documentation for each employee's completion of competency testing, and running a fair eases that recordkeeping nightmare. Instead of trying to track 100 forms handed in over weeks of a month, employees give me their completed competency sheet before they leave. I check off their name from a master list, put all the collected forms in the same folder and file them away - all in a single day's work.

Rubbing elbows
On the day of the fair, I'll circulate to all the stations with my staff - not because I have to, but because I want to. It's enjoyable. Completing the circuit also lets me mingle with my staff and talk to everyone in a laid-back and fun atmosphere. That goes a long way in building relationships with the people I manage.