Since 2006, competency standards for Australian registered nurses have required demonstration of the ability to practice within an evidence-based framework, use the best available evidence in decision-making, and contribute to research and quality improvement (NMBA 2006). While these standards clearly articulate a vision for using research in practice, expectations around preparing nurses to provide evidence-based care and the skills required for contribution to research are much less clear.
Currently, undergraduate preparation for competence in EBP is presented and assessed in a variety of ways, neither of which have a strong evidence-base nor criteria against which to judge competence. Foundation learning for evidence-based practice (EBP) should begin with a clear articulation of what evidence means for nursing and an understanding of when and how research and other evidence can be used to improve patient care.
This paper will discuss findings from a documentary analysis of research and EBP units of study within nursing curricula from 10 universities offering undergraduate nursing programs in New South Wales between 2004 and 2013.
These documents reflect a large variation in approaches to teaching research and EBP across this state, but also show evidence of maturation in the way these units of study have been presented over time. Progress towards designing a specific tool for measuring competence for EBP in nursing is presented as further evidence that nursing education for EBP may indeed be moving on. An example is used where these learnings are applied to the redesign of a pre-registration nursing curriculum.
Preparation for research and EBP are often not a high priority in the crowded undergraduate nursing curriculum. It is concluded that an agreed foundation level of skill and a common approach to the promotion of EBP must be adopted before it can be possible for nursing graduates to effectively translate evidence for nursing practice. The style and content of EBP subjects should parallel the level of undergraduate orientation to clinical practice. These subjects should include strategies to assist graduates to initially seek out EBP champions and networks within the clinical setting in which they will work rather than assume immediate competence as a researcher.