In a development that was years in the making, mandatory “continuing competency” tracking is beginning this week for Georgia’s more than 9,000 registered nurses.
The new system has long been discussed and even now continues to be debated.
Before the new law took effect, RN renewal was a matter of filing a timely request every two years. Advanced practice nurses, however, did have educational requirements based on their specialty.
Now, nurses have five options for meeting their individual competency requirements.
The law takes effect for license renewals for the year beginning Jan. 1, 2016. It applies to all licensed registered nurses. For licensed practical nurses, the competency tracking process will begin in 2017.
In some states, getting more hours of educational credits after completing one’s degree — commonly known as continuing education, or CE — remains the only way for RNs to verify competency. But the Georgia Nurses Association successfully lobbied for multiple ways to verify competency, says Debbie Bartlett, CEO of the association.
“It is important for all registered nurses in Georgia to realize that for the 2016 licensure renewal cycle and for all future renewal cycles, the law requires nurses to verify their continued competency,” says Bartlett.
“Nursing was the only health profession [in Georgia] that did not have a continuing competency requirement for license renewal,’’ she says. “Other Georgia health providers were using that void against the advancement of the nursing profession.”
Details about the new competency program were revealed during this summer’s Board of Nursing mailing to every licensed nurse in Georgia, and there were some differences of opinion.
Skepticism about the results
Critics say the change will accomplish little.
“The problem with this new law is that is does not in any way ensure ‘continued competency,’ ” says Lisa Wright Eichelberger, dean of the College of Health at Clayton State University.
“I believe the enactment of this rule will be costly and ineffective,” she says. “It is basically bureaucratic window dressing or ‘feel-good’ legislation that does nothing more than help continuing education providers, and we [Georgia nurses] can say we require CEs” just as other licensed organizations do.
“To my knowledge, after implementing mandatory continuing education requirements for re-licensure, no improvements in practice or decreases in disciplinary actions have been shown” in other states, says Eichelberger. “I [had hoped] we would base what we do on evidence, outcomes and results.”
Others, however, are looking forward to the change.
Software company says it’s ready
Partnering with a Jacksonville, Fla., company, CE Broker, the Georgia Board of Nursing says it’s confident the program will succeed.
“Lifelong learning is an essential component of professional nursing practice,” says Jim Cleghorn, the board’s executive director.
In his quarterly letter to nurses, Cleghorn said, “License renewal season is fast approaching.”
CE Broker’s CEO, Brian Solano, says his company is committed to simplifying the competency reporting process as well as tracking maintenance for Georgia nurses and its regulators.
“The software is built, and we are on schedule,” he says. “Our role is to empower the state regulators and keep the system easy to use for all.”
According to CE Broker’s website, it already provides the continuing education tracking systems for the Florida Department of Health, the Ohio Board of Speech, and other regulating agencies in the country.
“As a company, we have been handling health care CEs for Florida since 2003,” says Solano. He adds that there have been three renewed contracts. The company also serves District of Columbia nurses.
Information about the registration process with CE Broker can be found at the Georgia Board of Nursing website.
What are a nurse’s options?
The new Georgia law “is all about competency,” says Carole Jakeway, chief nurse and director of district and county operations at Georgia’s Department of Public Health.
“Continuing education is one of five options for measuring competency” that the state uses, says Jakeway.
The additional four options are:
** Completion of an accredited academic study in nursing or a related field as recognized by the board
** Verification of competency by a licensed health care facility or entity, or by a physician’s office that is part of a health system, verifying at least 500 hours of practice that has been approved by the board
** Completion of a board-approved re-entry program or graduation from a nursing education program
“Every nurse in Georgia has an account and can use the basic system free of charge,” says Solano. More service-oriented systems are also available, but there is a fee.
CE Broker’s goal, says Solano, is to simplify continuing education audits for Georgia’s nurses and board staff. The board will use CE Broker to ensure renewal requirements are met.
“The Georgia Board of Nursing’s position is to be supportive of all learning activities that increase knowledge and enable nurses to practice with the highest degree of skill and safety,” says Cleghorn.
Judi Kanne, a registered nurse and freelance writer, combines her nursing and journalism backgrounds to write about public health. She lives in Atlanta.