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What are competency checklists, and how are they used by staff educators?

Competency checklists are one way of validating competence. Checklists must clearly identify expectations and should be completed by staff members who know how to use them. Criteria for safe, effective performance must be clearly defined, and all parties involved in the evaluation process must have a common understanding of the criteria and the basis for assigning ratings.

Research has shown that making direct observations using precise measurement criteria in checklists, with immediate feedback on performance, is more effective than the traditional evaluation of clinical skills using subjective rating forms. The format for skills checklists may vary, but most of them contain similar information. Characteristics of competency checklists are:

  • Learner oriented
  • Focus on behaviors
  • Measurable
  • Criteria validated by experts
  • Specific enough to avoid ambiguity

Most checklists use a “met” and “not met” format, include an area for comments, and evaluate a single occurrence. One drawback with checklists is that they do not identify whether the observed behavior is a persistent one that is representative of the situation being observed, or whether it is a snapshot of performance at a particular point in time. It is also important to assess clinical competence in the context of the “real” situation. Each institution determines how many and how often competency checklists should be used.

-Barbara A. Brunt, MA, MN, RN, BC