What Are QSEN Competencies and Why Are They Important for Nurses?

QSEN competencies

If you’re interested in nursing or any part of the medical world, you already know—acronyms are inescapable. No matter which way you turn, an alphabet soup of acronyms can be found in reports and lurking in the shadows behind every professional’s name. When you don’t know what all these letters stand for, it can start to feel a little overwhelming.

One acronym you may have seen popping up lately is “QSEN”—and it’s an important concept to familiarize yourself with. QSEN stands for Quality and Safety Education in Nursing, and it’s arguably one of the most important topics in the field. It’s so vital that nurses never really stop learning and developing their QSEN competencies.

“Over the last fifteen years, healthcare systems have considerably increased their dedication to quality and safety education for nursing staff,” says Sherry Dillon, RN and vice president of product management at Bravado Health. “I’ve seen a ramp-up in hospital policy, procedure and regulatory mandates, and an increase in educational requirements with regard to quality and safety for nursing staff.”

“There is also an increase in annual, required continuing education units by state boards of nursing around the subject,” Dillon adds.

So much of the nursing job falls under the umbrella of quality and safety. Understanding what the QSEN competencies are, and why they matter so much, will give you a better picture of the multifaceted way nurses work.

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What is QSEN?

More than an acronym, QSEN represents an initiative in the nursing field to align nursing education and nursing best practices in quality and safety standards. According to a report from the American Nurse Association (ANA), QSEN was formed in response to calls for improved quality and safety in nursing.

“QSEN is a national movement that guides nurses to redesign the ‘What’ and ‘How’ they deliver nursing care, so that they can ensure high-quality, safe care,” the ANA writes. “The founder of QSEN often states that QSEN helps nurses to identify and bridge the gaps between what is and what should be.”

According to the QSEN Institute, “The overall goal through all phases of QSEN has been to address the challenge of preparing future nurses with the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to continuously improve the quality and safety of the healthcare systems in which they work.”

Basically, the movement represents a unified high standard of nursing care with specific competencies to ensure quality and safety standards are not only achieved, but also continuously improved.

But what are QSEN competencies?

This raises the question: what are QSEN competencies? According to the ANA, there are six focus-area competencies in QSEN:

  • Patient-centered care
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Safety
  • Quality improvement
  • Informatics

These “zones” of nursing work each represent areas where quality and safety standards should be practiced. Each competency involves skills, knowledge bases and attitudes nurses should have on the topic.

For example, in knowledge of patient-centered care, nurses examine barriers that keep patients from being active in their own plan of care. The skill aspect of that issue is to remove those barriers or provide access to resources. The attitude aspect is to respect the patient’s preferences for involvement in the care process.

The QSEN Institute offers more examples, as well as a breakdown of the many areas each competency covers.

The ANA also emphasizes that QSEN competencies don’t only apply in terms of individual treatment—they also represent areas where nurses should think about system improvements.

For example, nurses competent in patient-centered care would document patient pain and formulate pain management plans accordingly. But nurses who use the competency to evaluate patient-centered care on a system level would participate in medical record reviews of their units’ pain management to see if the units are meeting standards and improving in quality.

Another example is in the safety competency. Nurses competent in QSEN safety standards will “foam in” and “foam out” of patient rooms and get patients’ family members to also wash their hands to help minimize the risk of infection or contamination.

As an example, nurses who apply the competency in systems thinking will ask if other professionals are washing their hands and document reasons for why staff members aren’t washing hands in certain situations. Maybe no handwashing stations are readily available in a certain area and adding one would resolve the issue.

In this way, the QSEN competencies empower nurses to hold themselves to high standards when working with their patients, while also encouraging them to engage in visionary thinking and problem solving in healthcare systems.

Do healthcare employers emphasize QSEN competencies?

You bet they do! For starters, there’s general hospital orientation. Dillon says new nurses often go through a minimum of a week-long orientation with demonstrations or tests to verify competencies taught in school. “Within this orientation process, quality and patient safety are certainly on the agenda.”

Chief quality officers, patient safety officers and risk managers typically handle this part of new nurse orientation, according to Dillon, and they make sure nurses are prepared against medical error and patient safety issues.

“Most organizations require an annual re-competency check,” Dillon adds. “Doing this annually helps to account for any new guideline changes or interventions.” Leaders in healthcare systems create a culture of patient safety and high-quality care, Dillon says. And employers encourage (or even assign) attendance to conferences on QSEN topics.

QSEN saves lives

Quality and safety education for nurses never stops. The best nurses are passionate about QSEN competencies, because they know these areas of responsibility save lives.

“Proven, advanced aptitudes can save a life—one patient at a time,” Dillon says. “The more confidence and practice nurses have in the proven competency, the better the aptitude—which translates to patient safety.”

Nurses with leadership traits will likely be inspired by the critical thinking and visionary potential in QSEN—and getting passionate about QSEN competencies is a great way to stand out in your job. Of course, there are quite a few specific things you can do as a nurse to be a leader and make the environment safer. For more ideas, check out our article, “5 Innovative Ways to Display Leadership in Nursing.”

About the author

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a senior content manager who writes student-focused articles for Rasmussen University. She holds an MFA in poetry and worked as an English Professor before diving into the world of online content. 

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