Competency versus proficiency: trying to develop an understanding of these terms in the context of practice learning
The language of nurse education in the UK has shifted from ‘competency’ to ‘proficiency’ since 2018. The shift in language has been poorly articulated leaving individual higher education institutions, practice supervisors and assessors to interpret what these terms mean in relation to assessing student nurses. There appeared to be some confusion regarding the interpretation of the term proficiency among those who engaged in an exchange on the topic via Twitter. Students may focus on the procedure-based checklists within the standards. The relationship between proficiency and implementing a person-centred approach to care remains unclear.
Judging by an exchange of views on Twitter (since renamed as X) in late 2022, it seems that there is both debate and confusion regarding the language of educational standards for the preparation of nurses in the UK. There appears to have been a change in language from ‘competence’ to ‘proficiency’, which may have implications when assessing student nurses in practice. This prompted the authors of this article to try to unpick some of the salient issues regarding the terms competence and proficiency. We are not promising any hard and fast solutions, rather we seek to provoke further debate and dialogue.
According to the Collins online dictionary, ‘competence is the ability to do something well or effectively’, but according to the same source, ‘if you are proficient in something, you can do it well’, which might lead us to assume that these terms are interchangeable.
Other definitions suggest that ‘proficiency’ implies higher levels of skills and experience. For example, ‘great skills, ability and experience’ (Cambridge Dictionary online) or ‘the ability to do something well because of training and practice’ (Oxford Learner's Dictionary). So why does this terminology matter in a nurse education context?
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