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Key Skills You Need to Be a Great Nurse



Nursing is, without a doubt, also one of the toughest jobs. Training can be extensive. And even working long shifts can be enough to put most people off of the job. It takes a very special kind of person to become a nurse.

Caring and compassion are key skills needed for this area of work, but mixing these traits with clinical excellence can be tricky, and this is before you consider how to specialize in one set area. While also ensuring that you are open to learning and upgrading your skills as this is an option.

Like most jobs, there is a set of skills that can help you to become an exceptional nurse. Some can be innate. Although many have to be learned. So, let’s take a look at some of the key values that can make you a great nurse. Irrespective of which area you specialize in.

Emotionally supportive

When most people think of a nurse, they envision someone in a blue uniform helping a patient. So, it should come as no surprise that to be a good nurse, you need to be emotionally supportive. Not only to patients, but to your nursing team in general.

Whether you are working in a hospital or a nursing home, your job is going to be tough. There will be times when you and your colleagues will be put under extreme pressure. It is not uncommon for this stress to feel overwhelming.

When you are new to nursing, your colleagues will be able to help you with coping with these tough emotions. As you become more confident in your skillset and your team, you should reciprocate.

Of course, being emotionally supportive does not stop with your team. You will need to provide emotional help to your patients and their families. Remember, most people are in hospital because they are very ill, and their families will also need reassurance. Which will fall under your umbrella of nursing care.

Once again, if you are someone who is not wanting to support others, nursing may be a hard no in your career choices.

Communication Skills

Nurses have to have top-notch communication skills. Across a wider spectrum than most people consider when looking at this career choice.

Consider the people that a nurse will see in their day-to-day life. They will be liaising with doctors. Other members of a multidisciplinary team. Patients and their families. In some instances, they will need to discuss clinical matters with the police. Or legal officials.

As a nurse, your daily interactions will revolve around patients. Who may be scared or in pain. You will need to help them to remain calm. While also explaining to them what is happening medically in plain English. You will also need to take into account other issues that can arise with communication. Suppose you have a patient who has dementia who is under your care. You will need to keep them calm and speak plainly, and sometimes repeatedly.

There is also a great deal of communication with doctors that is required from nurses. This kind of talk will be more clinical. So, you need to adjust your vocab based on who you are talking to. Which sounds easy, but it’s not.

Portraying an air of confidence with the words you choose is also part of the job. Many family members may be anxious, or angry about what has happened to their loved one. So, they may be difficult to communicate with. Along with communication skills come de-escalation skills. Which can help to calm angry relatives or patients, and is a skill worth its weight in gold in nursing.

Willingness to learn

As mentioned earlier, nurses are constantly learning.

Even senior nursing professionals may learn something new every day on the job!

Where you are working will usually be able to provide you with training courses. To help keep you up to date once the basic skill set is in place.

For many who are looking to become nurses, there is a lot to learn, and you have to be willing to accept criticism and help from your team.

Nursing is also a very academic subject, and there are many universities and colleges that can help you to break into nursing. Take a look at Wilkes University nursing programs to get a taste of what is needed to be a nurse. As well as the qualifications required to get onto the majority of nursing courses.

When studying, you will need to take on a lot of information. Which will then be used in clinical practice, and vice versa. So, if you are someone who is not big on learning, then nursing may not be the right career choice for you.

Remain Professional

Let’s expand on the previous point. Suppose you have a family member of a patient who is shouting at you. They are unhappy with how their relative is being treated. It is human nature to want to shout back and walk away. As a nurse, you cannot. Unless you are told to by another member of your medical team.

Remaining professional is one of the biggest challenges for nurses. As a job, they come into contact with a lot of patients who may have mental health issues. Or neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s. Or, simply, they may be in excruciating pain. You may even be working with children. Who will certainly need a certain approach to relax.

This creates a unique challenge and is why being a nurse is associated with patience!

Even if a patient or their family is shouting at you, you are still required to provide care. Or to communicate with them as best as you can. If you find yourself losing your cool, it may be best to walk away and defer to a colleague, but this is rarely advised as it appears unprofessional. If you are someone who struggles to stay calm, this may need addressing. Especially before you train in nursing. There are many courses which can help medical trainees to learn how to keep their cool under extreme stress, and there are also ways that you can promote this within yourself too. Seek help from senior members of staff. Or engage in hobbies such as yoga or meditation when you are not on shift. This can help you to keep a cool head under pressure.

This brings the focus back to the nursing or medical team as a whole. It would be very unusual for an entire team to be friends with each other, and there may be a nurse who you work with who you dislike. You will need to put this animosity aside and work together to provide care. If the situation escalates, then, by all means, seek out help from your clinical lead, but while you are practicing as a nurse, you will need to remain professional at all times.

Ability to Adapt

Do you find a change in the plan difficult to work around? Then nursing may not be the right career option for you.

Every day in nursing is different from the last, and depending on where you work, this may be more extreme than on other wards. Treatment plans for patients may change. The patients themselves may change. Or, if you are an ER nurse, you may have to deal with more challenging situations. Which can mean that a change in plan is warranted.

As the pandemic of 2020 highlighted, nurses may need to cope in extreme situations. So, you will need to be flexible and able to adapt without much hassle. Or you may burn out.

It is also worth noting the shift patterns that accompany nursing. One week you may be on day shifts, and the next week on the night shift. This is why some nurses only put in for shifts at set times as this can be jarring, but when you are newly trained as a nurse, this may not be an option, and the same standard of care will be required. Irrespective of what time it is.

You will also have to adapt to new treatments, and to learn how to administer them if needed.

Setting Priorities

Suppose you have just started on a shift as a nurse. Immediately, you are bombarded with tasks.

One patient needs to be moved to another room. However, the meds round is also running late, and a new bed has to be set up for a new patient who is coming in.

All of these are important tasks, but which ones do you do first? Prioritizing your tasks is part of adaptability, as the tasks that you need to finish may change within seconds, and rather than trying to do everything at once, you need to prioritize tasks. Without forgetting about other ones.

This is a skill set that many new nurses learn on the job. Or within their studies. So don’t be too panicked if you want to be a nurse but don’t have this polished yet.

Ability to Detach

This may sound like a nurse that has gone in a Ratchet direction, but for many nurses, this is a vital skill. Especially if you work in an environment like mental health. Where you may be required to look after challenging people.

If you have been looking after a patient for a long time, this can be tricky, and it is not meant to be as cold as it sounds. You are not supposed to feel emotionless when being a nurse, but being too emotive can cause you to become exhausted. Which can lead to burnout.

If you are struggling to keep yourself at an emotionally healthy distance, seek help. Ask your supervisor for tips. Or query this when you are next at university. Some of those more senior than you may be able to offer tips on how to do this effectively. Without advising you to simply give up on the caring aspect of the job. Many nurses can find it helpful to practice mindfulness on the job. Such as deep breathing exercises and reflection.

If you are someone who needs to develop this skill, it can be worth doing so before starting nursing. As this will be beneficial when you are training.

Written Communication

Many people assume that having good oral communication is key to nursing, and in many ways, it is; but what do nurses spend a lot of time doing? Writing notes and dealing with paperwork. So, it is useful to top up your verbal communication if it is lacking.

Once again, the language you use will differ. Depending on who the notes are aimed at.

If it is general notes on a patient’s file, it will need to be more factual. If it is notes for a doctor, it will need to be even more so. Alternatively, you may be writing notes for external professionals. Like care coordinators. Which could warrant a more informal tone.

Spelling and punctuation have to be exceptional for nurses. As many medications have similar names, and spelling them wrong could have disastrous results for your patients. So, be sure to boost this area before starting to train as a nurse.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to training as a nurse, the majority of the skills are learned.

You will learn how to prioritize. You will learn how to communicate clearly, and of course, you will learn more about patients and how to care for them as you go along.

The keyword here is to learn. If you are not someone who is able to learn quickly, nursing may not be the ideal job for you. It requires dedication, compassion, and the ability to learn new skills all the time. Especially if you are wanting to specialize in a certain area. Or to become a clinical lead or head nurse.

You also have to be caring. It sounds cliched but this is vital for your motivation, and for keeping you engaged with your patients and their families.








I'm Nikos Alepidis, blogger at motivirus. I'm passioned for all things related to motivation & personal development. My goal is to help and inspire people to become better.

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