Confidence in competence: legislation and nursing in New Zealand


Rachael Vernon, Faculty of Health and Sport Science, Eastern Institute of Technology, Private Bag 1201, Napier 4142, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand; Tel: +64-6-974-8000 ext. 5037 or +64-21-2378053; Fax: +64-6-9748976; E-mail:


Vernon R., Chiarella M. & Papps E. (2011) Confidence in competence: legislation and nursing in New Zealand. International Nursing Review58, 103–108

Aim:  This article aims to identify and discuss a variety of interpretations, myths and tensions that surround the requirements for demonstrating continuing competence under a new national regulatory regime, which is designed to promote confidence in professional nursing practice in New Zealand (NZ).

Background:  The enactment of the Health Practitioners' Competence Assurance Act (HPCA) 2003 in NZ requires regulatory authorities to implement, administer and monitor systems to ensure that health practitioners registered in a specific scope of practice are competent. The Nursing Council of New Zealand (NCNZ) is the regulatory authority for nurses in NZ. While the onus for demonstrating and maintaining competence is clearly the responsibility of the individual nurse, since the enactment of the HPCA Act, the assessment and monitoring of that competence is the responsibility of the Nursing Council. Demonstration of competence to practise nursing begins during undergraduate nursing education. However, demonstration of continuing competence is a new legislative requirement for nurses in NZ. As a result of this new legislation the NCNZ implemented a mandatory process for the monitoring of the continuing competence of nurses.

Conclusion:  Definitions of continuing competence within legislation and health professional regulation across developed nations have strong similarities. The need for continuing competence frameworks is generally agreed by regulatory authorities to be necessary to protect the safety of the public. However, regulatory processes that monitor the maintenance, assessment and development of continuing competence in nursing practice need to be overt, structured and well communicated in order to engage nurses, promote confidence in professional practice and protect the health and safety of members of the public.