A unique characteristic of neonatal care is the unpredictability of illness at birth and a high-risk period of adaptation in the days thereafter. The majority of newborn infants will survive with little specialised care. However, there will always be a number of newborn infants who will need special care and if not managed properly, they may suffer serious damage or even die. Due to the high risk it is crucial for all levels of healthcare workers involved in the care of the neonates to be competent.
In the South African context, nurses play a key role in neonatal practice but they have various levels of competency as they are trained through different programmes with different levels of knowledge and skills on completion. Professional development though is expected to enhance their competencies.
A multi-method research design was used to explore and describe competencies for the professional development of different categories of nurses in neonatal practice; to develop a competency framework for professional development of these nurses and to validate the competency framework within the South African context.
The theoretical underpinning of the research included the three competency domains (professional and ethical; clinical practice and quality of care) of the South African Nursing Council, as well as Benner’s novice-to-expert model.
The result of this study is a competency framework for the professional development of different categories of nurses in neonatal practice. The competency framework for professional development is expected to improve quality and accountability of nurses in neonatal practice.