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The Performance-Based Development System (PBDS) is an examination designed to test a nurse’s ability in three domains:

•     Critical-thinking skills (recognizing problems, setting priorities, managing risks)

•     Technical skills

•     Interpersonal skills (working in a team, resolving conflicts)

Increasingly, nursing administrators are using the PBDS to ensure that travel nurses have the basic competencies needed to perform nursing duties at their respective institutions. Not surprisingly, this all-or-nothing, do-or-die, pass-fail test tends to be a point of concern for many travel nurses.

Have no fear! With proper preparation, a clinically-competent travel nurse will pass the PBDS.

PBDS Study Guide

The first step in passing the PBDS is to know the details. The PDBS for staff nurses takes an average of 5 hours. Travel nurses may be offered a shorter version that lasts about 3 hours (but plan on taking the full exam just in case). Most facilities offer computer-based PBDS testing, though there may be a hospital that requires the old pencil-and-paper exam. Exam participants receive a scale score rating that essentially determines whether you pass or fail. If you pass, you can continue on to your assignment. Sadly, if you fail—score outside of the acceptable achievement level—you won’t be able to take the assignment and you won’t be able to retake the PBDS.

The PBDS is presented as a series of critical thinking exercises. You will watch a brief video of a simulated clinical situation. Your answer is in the form of an essay, of sorts—no multiple choice questions. You will be asked to make the key diagnosis, identify life-threatening conditions of situations, and write down your course of action. Remember, there will be questions designed to assess your interpersonal skills, too, like handling a “difficult” family member or working with a demanding physician.

Each PBDS includes general nursing knowledge questions; however, PBDS assessments are into four practice areas:

•     Medical-surgical

•     Neonatal critical care unit (NICU)

•     Adult ICU and critical care

•     Obstetrics

PBDS Tricks and Tips

1. Pay attention to the videos.

The videos come at you quickly and contain critical information. Since you can’t rewind or re-watch (just like real life), take in the information as it comes.

2. Look for what is wrong. 

Obviously this is an examination—they wouldn’t provide you with a scenario of a perfectly healthy person. Assume that something is wrong (or soon will be).

3. Do not overthink the scenario.

Remember what the PDBS is: a test to evaluate competency. If you are a practicing nurse, you learned and developed the core skills needed to pass the test. Nothing is too minor or too obvious. When in doubt, it is better to add in a detail in your evaluation than it is to leave it out.

4. Know the common conditions and serious scenarios.

Hospitals want to know if you can handle yourself in serious situations. Assume that your PBDS will cover all of the common serious diagnoses, such as:

•     CVA (ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke)

•     Acute myocardial infarction

•     Ketoacidosis

•     Pulmonary embolism

•     Pneumothorax

•     Ileus

•     Respiratory/cardiac arrest

Remember, with proper preparation, you can pass the PBDS. Just rely on your training, your skills, and all the intangible qualities that make you a Super Nurse!