Pam Savage

Pam Savage

Guest Blogger at See Full Details
RN, BA (Maq), DipN (Lon), MHPEd (UNSW), DipLaw (Syd), EdDoc (CQU) As a Lawyer and Clinician, this background was brought to her role as a Lecturer, at CQ University to undergraduate and postgraduate students. This experience also served her well while working with and educating Aboriginal Health Workers.
Pam Savage

Latest posts by Pam Savage

Labelling a colleague incompetent, what are the consequences?

I have written often about bullying in nursing, it is I believe, a serious problem.  There are research studies looking at the issue and there are clear and agreed consequences to the victims of bullying even if the term itself is contentious.  I was wondering just how we would categorise a situation where a nurse claims another nurse is incompetent based on an observed knowledge or skill deficit?

We see this often, I certainly hear it often.  Is it bullying?  There is no doubt it is a form of aggression but how really can we be sure we are dealing with a “bad” nurse rather than a situation of frustration or personal dislike.  The reason it is important to actually know this, is the fact that such a label can destroy a career and there is a wealth of data out there about new graduates and “negatively labelled” nurses leaving the job after years of investment in gaining their credentials.

We are required as professionals to protect our patients and ensure we and our colleagues are competent and safe practitioners.  This by definition requires judgements to be made.  Are those judgements objective? Did the circumstances get examined and was time taken to get “both sides” of the situation to establish just why or what the failure was?

If we work with someone who lacks knowledge our professional obligation is to meet our own competency requirements and educate the inexperienced or uninformed nurse.  How often have you heard someone respond to a question with a look of (sometimes feigned) amazement with “you don’t know how to… what do you mean you never heard of…  True working with a team member who requires education can be a trial.  We can all be frustrated by the extra burden this causes on a busy ward.   We often forget that our knowledge has been increased by experience and years of almost unconscious learning on the job so when we are busy and overworked it is hard to find consideration and time for someone we feel should be up to scratch.

When we claim someone is incompetent it is important to realise if they hold registration or enrolment credentials they have in fact been educated and tested against the national competencies and found to be satisfactory.  Often it is a skill or knowledge deficit a situation requires that was not part of their education, it is something to be learnt on the job.  That puts the obligation to establish if the nurse has the requisite knowledge (even if you think they should have) then demonstrate, explain, teach and assess them to ensure they can undertake the duty.

Simply labelling someone incompetent without you first fulfilling your own professional standards could rebound on you in turn being judged negatively.

There are some fabulous webinar recordings by Pam Savage regarding Nurses and the Law on theNurses for Nurses Network. The  Nurses for Nurses Network provides good information and CPD  on an array of nursing topics in a range of easy learning ways including webinars and quizzes on the latest information that Nurses need to know – remember the Nurses for Nurses Network was created by Australian Nurses for Nurses!