What is Scope?
Essentially, “scope of practice” refers to what is legally allowed for a person of a particular profession to do. This includes procedures, actions, and even restrictions. Generally, these are based on the experience, education, and certifications of the employee. As a nurse, you’ll need to be aware of what others are allowed to do in their position, along with your own duties and restrictions. If you are in a higher position and need to delegate a task, for example, you will be held accountable for that delegation. In other words, you need to know if whoever you asked to do a job is legally allowed to carry out that function.
How Do You Know If It’s Withing the Scope of Practice?
If you are in a position where you might need to delegate a task to others or need to accomplish a task yourself, you really need to make sure you understand the scope of practice. Staying within those regulations will protect both you and the other person (if you are delegating). Here are three steps to follow to make sure that you are staying in line with the scope:
Define the Task
Whatever the task is, you should ensure that you understand what exactly it entails and what other auxiliary activities may be involved as well. If you aren’t entirely sure, ask someone who is. And because every facility is different in how they handle certain things, you’ll also need to know your workplace’s regulations, policies, and procedures related to the specific task.
If you are the one who is to complete the task, you should also perform a detailed self-assessment, where you identify and scrutinize your own abilities. It’s great to be confident in your skills, but this is not the time for self-flattery; it is a time to be realistic about what you are capable of doing. If you in any way do not feel up to the task, let your supervisor know. The same goes for if you are delegating: trust the other person if they say they are uncomfortable performing the task.
If you’ve worked in a certain facility for a while, you’ll probably notice that there is a way of doing things that differs from other facilities. Most places have something like this, where the answer to common practice is “It’s just the way we do it here.” Unfortunately, this may not be in line with the law. If you are assigned a task that does not fall legally within your scope of practice, it is best to err on the side of caution and let your supervisor know that you aren’t comfortable doing something that is against the law. Both the accepting of a task in this case and the delegating of it can result in disciplinary action, so you’ll want to cover yourself and know the laws.
Consider the Consequences
Once you’ve defined the task and know the details of what it entails, and you’ve reviewed the laws so that you are sure you aren’t violating any kind of legal restriction, it’s time to use your best judgment and decide whether you should take on the task. Because our actions as nurses carry pretty hefty consequences, we need to be absolutely sure we’re ok with what happens. If you’re having a hard time deciding if you should do the activity, make sure that you have a written order from a superior and that you have proven competency in any skills that the task requires, like a certification. If you believe that you are ready to take on the task and that any other cautious nurse would go ahead as well, you should proceed with careful confidence.