How to Identify Nursing Skills Gaps

No matter how much education and experience a nurse has, there will still be evident skills gaps in many health care facilities. The health care field is complex and ever changing as we learn more about the human body and how to treat it, and skills gaps are just a part of the industry. 

However, if any part of a health care team lacks knowledge and expertise in a certain domain, they won’t be able to do their job as effectively — something that can have dire consequences in the nursing field where people’s lives are at stake. 

Because of that responsibility, it’s vital for health care facilities to find and address these areas that might be lacking quickly, so they can rectify the issue and continue to provide the best possible care to their patients.

Not sure if your facility is experiencing a skills gap? Here’s how to identify nursing skills gaps, and what you can do to bridge them.

What Is a Skills Gap?

In general, a skills gap refers to any necessary skill area in which a professional or team is lacking. Within the nursing field, it’s the difference between desired best practices and the current level of performance or knowledge that health care professionals are currently showing. 

It’s important to note that a skills gap isn’t simply a lack of “knowing” but also includes a lack of “knowing how.” It doesn’t matter how much a nurse memorizes facts about different conditions and treatments if they can’t apply that knowledge in their practice. 

Unfortunately, there are countless nursing skill gaps to address in the health care industry. From a lack of experience with new technology or lack of awareness of updated health guidelines, skills gaps can lead to inefficient work at best and adverse patient outcomes at worst.

Identifying Nursing Skill Gaps

The first step to eliminating a skills gap is to identify it. 

To identify skill gaps in your health care facility, you’ll need to run a skills gap analysis for each of your employees. 

A skills gap analysis allows you to identify your team’s current levels of competency and compare those to best practices as well as organization-specific competency requirements. Once you complete this analysis, you’ll be able to identify exactly where the skills gaps exist and then make informed decisions about how to resolve them.

These four tools can help you run an effective skills gap analysis for your health care facility:

1. Review HR Records

A detailed review of HR records can illuminate facility-wide issues that may otherwise not be identified. 

What records specifically might help? Accident and safety reports, employee training and continuing education records, exit interviews and performance evaluations, and patient outcome reports can all provide valuable information when looking to identify your facility’s current performance levels.

2. Interview Employees (Individuals and Focus Groups)

Your nursing staff are the ones on the floor each day working with patients — they can offer important insight into their day-to-day work, the challenges they’re facing, and the areas in which they need more support or training. 

Talking to your employees one-on-one across multiple levels of your organization can give you a better idea of your facility’s overall performance and areas for improvement. 

In addition to individual interviews, you may also consider running focus groups. These groups, ideally composed of employees with similar needs (such as all the nurses in a specific unit or on a specific shift), can help you narrow down areas in which to focus your efforts.

3. Create Surveys

Surveys can be a useful tool to help you quantify your team’s current skills as well as their training needs. You can use written, web-based, or phone-based surveys to help you quickly gather the information you need. 

In addition to sending surveys to staff, you may also wish to send a separate survey to those who have received care at your facility. Patient care is at the heart of nursing, and hearing directly from your patients and/or their families can help you identify any outwardly-presenting skills gaps.

4. Observe Employees

Observing your nurses at work, conducting training simulations, and analyzing written reports can all provide firsthand information on how your team is currently operating as well as areas for potential improvement.

How to Bridge Nursing Skill Gaps

Once you’ve identified any nursing skills gaps, your next step is to bridge the space between the current level of practice and patient care and the target level. 

Here are four strategies to address your facility’s current gaps, as well as reduce the occurrence of any future skills gaps.

Foster a Culture of Learning

Continuing education should go beyond checking off national or state requirements. By fostering a culture of learning, you can empower your staff to pursue relevant continuing education opportunities that’ll benefit both them and your facility in the long term. 

This may look like providing internal resources for professional development — such as training programs, access to certifications and degrees, and reimbursement for external programs — as well as building time into employee schedules so they can take advantage of these resources.

Strengthen Interpersonal Skills

Health care requires more than just sufficient technical skills. Teams must also be able to work together and communicate effectively. 

Developing your team’s emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills, especially at the leadership level, can have positive facility-wide impacts. This can include incorporating training on important skills, such as conflict management, negotiation, and written or verbal communication. 

You may also consider having your team take personality style assessments and then review the results together to help employees better understand each other.

Invest in Your Current Staff

By investing in the growth and development of your current staff, you’re not only strengthening your nursing team’s skills and abilities, you’re also encouraging employees to build their skills and stay with your facility. That can help fight turnover rates and reduces the need for new or external hires and all the training and orientation that comes with them.

Communicate regularly with your nursing managers and leadership team to identify potential candidates for internal advancement, and communicate with your employees about these opportunities as well.

Hire With Skill Gaps in Mind

If your skills gaps can’t be covered by your current staff, or you anticipate a future skills shortage, you’ll want to hire with gap coverage in mind. Look for candidates who have the training and skills required by the position, unit, or facility to ensure you have a well-rounded team.

By identifying skills gaps and acting on improving them, you’ll not only improve patient care and outcomes, but you’ll foster a better work environment for your health care profesionals. 

Are you a health care professional looking to build your skills? Start booking per diem shifts through Clipboard Health.