Become a Quality Assurance Nurse
|Degree Level||Associate or bachelor's degree|
|Licensure and Certification||Registered nurse licensure is required; optional certification available|
|Experience||Nursing experience typically required|
|Key Skills||Patient assessment, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities; use of database user interface and query, spreadsheet, Microsoft Office, and time accounting software|
|Salary||$71,000 (2015 average for all registered nurses)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online
Quality assurance nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who evaluate healthcare processes to determine if improvements are needed. They might review files and reports to ensure that recorded activities have followed accepted clinical standards. Quality assurance nurses often have a collaborative working relationship with professionals in other departments or their counterparts in related organizations. Data analysis and case management skills are required, as is the ability to manage multiple priorities and meet deadlines.
Registered nurses typically receive training through associate's or bachelor's degree programs in nursing. Specialized training in quality assurance is available through master's degree programs, although such training might not be needed to work as a quality assurance nurse. Nurses can seek voluntary certification in healthcare quality.
Quality assurance nurses need patient assessment skills and critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. And they should be able to use database user interface and query, spreadsheet, Microsoft Office and time accounting software. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses in general made an average annual salary of $71,000 as of May 2015.
Let's look at the step-by-step process to become a quality assurance nurse.
Step 1: Become a Registered Nurse
Options for becoming a registered nurse include earning an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which are typically general nursing degrees. An ADN program has a 2-year curriculum that offers clinical training in various nursing specialties, such as pediatrics, geriatrics, obstetrics, mental health and surgery. Additionally, students might study pharmacology, physical assessment, professional development, nutrition and leadership skills.
BSN students complete coursework and clinical training similar to that of an ADN program. Their 4-year curriculum might cover additional topics, including acute and critical care, public health nursing, informatics, nursing ethics and emergency nursing. Many programs feature required capstone projects or practicums, which provide senior-year students with an immersion experience serving a particular population of patients. Those who plan to pursue a master's degree in nursing will need a bachelor's degree.
Step 2: Get Licensed
Registered nurses need to be licensed in every state and Washington, D.C., upon completion of a qualified nursing program. State requirements for licensure vary. However, all states and the District of Columbia require candidates to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN), which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. ADN and BSN programs prepare students to sit for this exam.
Step 3: Gain Experience
Some employers prefer quality assurance nurses who have clinical experience in areas such as long-term care or home care. In addition, candidates for quality assurance nursing positions are typically expected to have some knowledge of quality review processes, as well as expertise in state and federal regulations. Supervisory experience also might be helpful.
Step 4: Consider Professional Certification
The National Association for Healthcare Quality offers a voluntary Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) credential on successful completion of an exam. The CPHQ exam is designed for professionals with healthcare quality management experience. Recertification is needed every two years and requires completion of continuing education credits.
Step 5: Consider a Master's Degree
Quality assurance nurses who seek graduate training might consider master's degree programs focusing on healthcare quality. These programs typically award a Master of Science or Master of Science in Nursing in Healthcare Quality and Safety. The curriculum might include topics such as healthcare law, patient safety, healthcare leadership, quality improvement and healthcare economics. Program completion typically involves a quality assurance capstone project in an issue related to the primary area of healthcare study.
Since quality assurance nurses provide oversight for designated processes, they often are preferred candidates for management positions, like head nurse, unit manager, or administrative titles like vice president with business interest or experience. Alternatively, some registered nurses may choose to specialize and become nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners or nurse midwives. An advanced degree and certification will increase the likelihood of advancement along any nursing career path.
To recap, quality assurance nurses need an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing and state licensure. Voluntary certification and advanced education could lead to more and better job opportunities.