180031 Self-assessed competency of public health nurses for providing essential public health services

Monday, October 27, 2008: 1:00 PM

Paul M. Schwartz, RN, MA , School of Nursing, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Susan J. Zahner, DrPH, RN , School of Nursing, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Jeffrey B. Henriques, PhD , School of Nursing, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI

This study was designed to determine self-assessed competency levels of public health nurses (PHNs) in Wisconsin for providing essential public health services and to compare the results with a similar study conducted in Illinois. The Wisconsin data was used to inform the development of new continuing education programs directed to improving skills for population-focused practice in Wisconsin under a HRSA funded project called Linking Education and Practice for Excellence in Public Health Nursing.


PHNs at the staff and management level working in local health departments in Wisconsin were invited by email to participate in a web-hosted survey of self-assessed competency for public health practice. Competency was assessed using an instrument created by Issel, Baldwin, Lyons, and Madamala (2006). The instrument asks each individual to assess their competency on a 5-point scale in nine service domains via four to thirteen questions per domain. Comparisons were made with previously published data from a study of Illinois PHNs conducted in 2001 that used the same instrument.


Of the 471 PHNs invited to participate in the survey, 299 completed a sufficient number of survey questions (>75%) to be included in the analysis. An aggregate mean and standard deviation were calculated for each domain (Cronbach's alpha ranged between .86 to .95). Only one domain (linking people to services) had a mean score > 3.5, indicating that the tasks could be done with ease. Comparison between the Wisconsin PHNs and those identified as staff PHNs in the Illinois study (n=168) showed higher mean scores among Wisconsin nurses; however, the pattern of responses were similar demonstrating consistency in areas of strength and weakness in both states.


While competency for providing essential public health services may be increasing over time, nurses in Wisconsin do not currently perceive themselves to be competent in the knowledge and skills for population-focused public health services. Practice agencies responsible for workforce development must provide more access to training that will build knowledge and skills in providing essential public health services.

Learning Objectives:
1. Discuss three areas of continuing education that should be used to address deficits in self-assessed competency for providing essential public health services.

Keywords: Public Health Nursing, Education

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the Principal Investigator on the research presented in this paper and am a co-author of the paper with a graduate student whom I supervised.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.