Public Health Nursing Competency in a Rural/Frontier State

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Objectives: To assess the self-reported levels of competency among public health nurses (PHNs) in Idaho.

Design and Sample: A cross-sectional descriptive design was used. The sample consisted of 124 PHNs, including 30 in leadership roles, currently practicing in Idaho's official public health agencies.

Measures: Structured interviews were conducted with participants who provided self-ratings in the 8 domains of public health competency as developed by the Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice and the Quad Council of Public Health Nursing Organizations.

Results: The findings indicated that the overall level of competency was most strongly associated with the duration of professional experience. No major differences in the competency levels were found in relation to nurses' level of education or licensure. Nurses in leadership positions reported the highest levels of competency. Rurality, as measured by district population density, was not significantly correlated with competency levels, except in relation to community dimensions of practice skills.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that PHNs' self-perceived levels of competence are most strongly influenced by their years of professional experience, particularly in leadership roles. Professional development efforts should focus on the domains with the lowest perceived competency: policy development/program planning skills, analytic assessment skills, and financial planning/management skills.