Over many years Dr Rachael Vernon’s research focused on the continuing competence of nurses to practise, looking at the processes used by nursing regulatory authorities to monitor how safe the health professional is in caring for the public. In 2010, as lead researcher, Rachael completed an evaluation of the Nursing Council of New Zealand’s Continuing Competence Framework and concluded that the framework was a well-accepted and recognised regulatory tool for assessing and monitoring the continuing competence of nurses and their safety to practise.
This New Zealand-based research, the first internationally published study to evaluate a continuing competence framework in nursing practice, generated interest from nursing regulatory jurisdictions in other countries. It led Rachael to undertake further work with a broader international scope that contributed to her PhD research completed through the University of Sydney.
Rachael’s research determined the consensus view of regulatory experts from Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America regarding what constitutes continuing nursing competence and how it should be assessed. It also sought to develop an international consensus model of best practice for the assessment of continuing competence.
Many countries have implemented continuing competence frameworks, which use a range of competence indicators. Whilst Rachael’s research identified common philosophies and processes related to the assessment indicators and measurement of continuing competence, there was also a common presumption that recent practice and active engagement in professional development provide a robust indication that nurses’ knowledge and skills are current, and that nurses might be aware of what they do not know.
Overall, Rachael’s findings identified that the indicators of continuing nurse competence (self-assessment, recent practice hours and continuing professional development/education) are all considered to be appropriate and provide a level of assurance of public safety. However, they cannot guarantee that a nurse is safe to practise on any given day.
In 2011 Rachael received a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award for Research which enabled her to spend time in the USA looking at the relationships between legislation, policy, public safety and continuing competence requirements for nurses. Her recent research outputs include two book chapters and presentations at conferences in the Netherlands and Hong Kong.
Rachael was Head of the School of Nursing at EIT for 12 years. She left this role in August 2014 to take up a position as Associate Professor/Associate Head of the School of Nursing & Midwifery at the University of South Australia in Adelaide.