There are few subjects that have spawned more passionate discussions within the traveler community than the PBDS test. Just what is this test and why is it such a hot topic?



In 1995 the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health-care Organizations (JCAHO) revised the standards and the survey process for hospitals in an initiative called the Agenda for Change. A primary focus of this JCAHO initiative is to ensure that hospitals determine the qualifications and competencies for all staff positions. JCAHO standard HR.3.10 states, “Competency to perform job responsibilities is assessed, demonstrated, and maintained.” JCAHO defines competency as “the knowledge, skills, ability, and behaviors that a person possesses in order to perform tasks correctly and skillfully.”  

In their ongoing struggle to comply with these standards, hospitals use a myriad of methods attempting to verify the competency of all new employees - including travelers.


Traditional Competency Tests

Most nurses working in a clinical setting have taken these tests. They will almost certainly include a medication test including basic pharmacology and dose calculations and, for those assigned to telemetry or critical care areas, a cardiac dysrhythmia recognition test. You may also see a situational critical thinking test in which various scenarios are portrayed and about which you will be asked one or more questions. Common to all tests of this type is that you will be expected to recognize events and situations that are an imminent threat to patient safety and intervene appropriately. These tests are specific to each hospital and will vary widely in content from hospital to hospital.

Typically these tests must be passed before you are permitted to engage in patient care. Usually, but not always, you will be permitted to use a drug reference book and a calculator during the test. For travelers, some hospitals will cancel your contract and send you on your way if you fail these basic tests, but this is rare. Most will offer some form of remediation or at least a second opportunity to take and pass the test.

Although test taking produces at least some degree of stress in anyone, these traditional tests will at least seem familiar to you - being similar to tests you took while in school. You can also expect to take assorted OSHA, HIPAA, and fire safety tests based on institution-specific hospital policies and procedures.


The PBDS Test

The Performance-Based Development System, or PBDS, is a competency assessment system marketed by Performance Management Services, Inc. (PMSI). The stated purpose of PBDS is to individualize orientation and thereby reduce the costs associated with providing a standardized orientation program for all new hires. According to PMSI’s website, it is now being used by approximately 500 hospitals in the US. Versions of this test have been in use since 1985, but PBDS has recently made large gains in popularity.

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