Competence: Its Relevance to Nursing
What is competence and how does it relate to the practice of nursing? My
purpose in writing this paper is to answer these questions and to help practicing nurses
understand their own individual competency.
What is the significance of competence to nursing? Our credibility as
practitioners is often judged by patient outcomes. Maintaining competency is essential
for delivering safe and professional nursing care to patients (Nagelsmith 1995). It is no
longer acceptable to simply meet the standards. McGregor states “Nurses today need a
comprehensive understanding of patient’s illness, the ability to function independently,
anticipate problems, and implement interventions beyond the level accepted previously”
(1990, p 287). In many definitions of competency we see words such as “adequate” and
“sufficient”. For our profession to continue, nurses must prove that we are not merely
practicing within these minimal standards, but are surpassing them and raising the level
of what is considered competence.
The term competence is derived from the French competence and the Latin
Competentia, meaning and agreement (Webster’s 1938). The Dictionary of the English
Language (1775) defines competence as such a quantity of anything as is sufficient,
without exuberance. Later references continue to define competence as sufficiency
without excess (Webster 1938). The National Council of State Boards of Nursing defines
competence as the application of knowledge and the interpersonal, decision-making and
psychomotor skill expected for the practice role.
Nagelsmith (1995) notes Butler’s definition of competence as “the ability to meet or
surpass prevailing standards of adequacy for a particular activity”. This definition introduces the idea of situational competence. Nagelsmith also identifies skill and knowledge as “interrelated components...