Following your Path

Scope and standards-of-practice documents: Guiding you to leadership success

Starting a new job in a new specialty can be a daunting experience. I recently transitioned to a new role as a nurse administrator. On my first day, I had two key questions about this role. The first—“What does this job entail?”—was answered in the position description and my organization’s service-line manuals.

For the second question—“What does it take to succeed in this job?”—I looked to my specialty’s scope and standards-of-practice documents, which outline ex¬pec¬tations of nursing practice and describe the elements for success.

What are the scope and standards of practice?

The scope and standards of practice are authoritative statements on how the professional nurse should practice. They aren’t prescriptive; they don’t state exactly how to perform specific job tasks or functions. But they do serve as a guide on how to perform those tasks and functions competently.

Providing a framework for the expectations of critical thinking and professional behavior, they are developed by nursing specialty organizations in concert with the American Nurses Association (ANA). All documents are approved by ANA and must be based on the cornerstone document ANA’s Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice (2nd edition). This book sets standards of practice and professional performance for registered nurses (RNs) in all specialties, roles, and practice environments. Nursing specialty organizations then develop documents to meet the practice and performance competencies of their specific specialty. (See Scope and standards: The legal standard of care by clicking the PDF icon above.)

As a nurse administrator, I sought guidance from Nursing Administration: Specialty Scope and Standards of Practice. This book offers conceptual models that nurse administrators should study and understand so they can do their job effectively. The scope statement provides a conceptual description of the specialty—the who, what, when, why, and how. Although it doesn’t cover the clinical scope of practice, it defines the specialty nursing practice and differentiates it from other types of practice.

Reading the scope statement helped me define my identity as a nurse administrator and gave me the contextual framework for how to think and act in my role. It also gave me a sense of what it would take to succeed. It provided the fundamentals of nursing administration—examples of work settings, roles, titles, and certain job responsibilities. It offered leadership concepts that serve as a framework for how nurse administrators should carry out their duties, covering everything from emotional intelligence to servant leadership to the Forces of Magnetism (the heart of the Magnet Recognition Program®).


Professional expectations and performance

In my new job, I had administrative responsibility for certain service lines. My position description delineated the duties I was to perform, such as planning and evaluating services. Beyond that, I felt a bit lost—until I reviewed the standards-of-practice section of Nursing Administration. Then it all started to come together. This section spells out professional expectations for my role and tells how to use the nursing process to carry out the role. This crucial guidance helped me create a development plan.

Take, for example, Standard 1: “Assessment: The nurse administrator collects comprehensive data pertinent to the issue, situation, or trends.” Reading this helped me understand how to assess the situations and service lines that I oversee. Each standard contains certain measures that indicate competency as an administrator and allow me to measure how well I meet the standard. Such measures include “collect data in a systematic and ongoing process,” “use analytical models and problem-solving tools,” and “document relevant data in a retrievable format.” This gave me a good idea of how to assess my service lines and service units and helped me identify the tools I’d need to do this. Now I had a better

Reviewing the standards of professional performance section helped me understand how I should conduct myself on the job and demonstrate my professionalism. These standards cover behavioral traits, such as leadership and collaboration, and describe attributes of professionalism, such as education and ethics. Consider, for instance, Standard 8: “Education: The nurse administrator attains knowledge and competency that reflects current practice.” This indicates that besides learning my job duties, I should construct a training and development plan and develop long- and short-term educational goals. Standard 8 underscores the importance of ongoing education in specific clinical areas and leadership to ensure I meet the standard.

Building competency in a new role

Using the scope and standards documents for my specialty has given me the tools I need to develop personal expectations for my role and give my staff and peers a concrete idea of what to expect of me in terms of performance. It brought home the fact that I’m responsible for upholding my organization’s values and guiding principles as well as my specialty’s standards of practice. The scope and standards also have been valuable tools in developing staff competencies and expectations. They ensure staff that an evidence-based tool is being used to develop expectations, and that this tool also can improve their nursing practice.

If you’re starting a new job, you’ll need to acclimate to a new service environment, a new work culture, and a new role. This takes time, and the learning curve can be intimidating. To boost your chance of success and reduce the intimidation factor, use the appropriate scope and standards documents. They will help you tweak your new identity, build competency, and create a personal and professional development plan. Ultimately, when nurses are successful at what they do, their patients and the entire organization benefit.

Selected references

American Nurses Association. Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice. 2nd ed. Silver Spring, MD: American Nurses Association; 2010.

American Nurses Association. Nursing Administration: Scope and Standards of Practice. 3rd ed. Silver Spring, MD; 2009.

Katie Brewer is the assistant director of patient care services for the Fairfax County Health Department in Fairfax, Virginia.

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