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Managing health care quality can help ensure patients have fewer complications or deaths as a result of medical mistakes. It’s a complex issue due to such factors as government regulations, differing standards of medical care and the sheer volume of knowledge required to develop and improve patient care systems. Quality assurance nurses are on the forefront of health care improvement efforts.
Skills and Characteristics
Although all nurses should have certain skills and characteristics, such as compassion and emotional stamina, quality assurance nurses particularly need critical-thinking skills, detail orientation, organizational skills and communication skills. Rather than assessing and evaluating a patient’s condition, the QA nurse must evaluate all aspects of the systems of care, identify problems and develop solutions. She must be able to present her findings and recommendations to the staff at all levels as well as senior management. A QA nurse must pay attention to details, but at the same time, she must be able to look at a system or organization from a global perspective.
The Primary Task
Protecting patients from harm by improving quality processes is the bottom line of the QA nurse’s job. She might develop policies that describe the actions staffers must following in specific circumstances, such as when to administer antibiotics to prevent infection or how often to turn a patient to prevent skin breakdown. The QA nurse observes and evaluates existing practices and policies, makes recommendations for changes when necessary and then re-evaluates the system to determine if the changes are effective. She carefully documents all activities, findings and recommendations, and reports them to her supervisors and others on the health care team.
Secondary duties of a QA nurse include medical chart review, policy and procedure development. She might interview patients and family members about perceived problems with care and incorporate her findings into a report or policy change recommendations. She typically attends quality improvement meetings and may stand in for the quality improvement director in the latter’s absence. The QA nurse might be responsible for creating a reference library on quality improvement in some organizations. Some QA nurses take call to ensure all staff members have an expert resource available if quality issues or questions arise.
How to Get There
QA nurses are registered nurses who have completed their education in an accredited school of nursing and passed the NCLEX-RN national licensing examination. Although the RN might have a nursing diploma or an associate degree, employers often prefer RNs to have a bachelor’s degree as well as clinical experience, according to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes RNs must be licensed in all states. QA nurses obtain training in quality improvement after graduation through continuing education, seminars and certificate programs, and have the option to become certified through the Healthcare Quality Certification Commission of the National Association for Healthcare Quality.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.
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