Career Development

7 Nursing Skills You Can’t Learn in the Classroom

7 Nursing Skills You Can’t Learn in the Classroom

By Michelle Davelaar PA-C, MMS, Contributor

Your clinical nursing skills are top-notch, you aced nursing didactics, and you’ve just passed your NCLEX-RN. You’re almost 100 percent positive that you’ve built the perfect nursing skills resume—but have you?

If you didn’t notice during clinicals that it takes a lot more than just solid technical skills and book smarts to be a great nurse, then you probably will very quickly after you begin working.

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It takes a special kind of person to be a nurse—a balanced mix of intellectual and people-person. And it’s often said that nurses are born, not made. We’ve listed the top nursing skills you’ll need to go from good to great.

The Top 7 List of Nursing Skills

1. Cultural Awareness

This is essential to giving complete, patient-centered care. Different cultural beliefs and values influence a patient’s view of health, wellness, care, acceptance of and adherence to treatment, and even death.

Understanding, respecting and accommodating your patients’ preferences and needs with regards to their individual beliefs, customs and practices should be part of both your planning and delivery of nursing care.

Recognizing your own biases is the first step to giving culturally competent care. From there, increasing your knowledge and awareness through educational opportunities of your practicing institution or organizations like the Transcultural Nursing Society can help you further develop this skill.

2. Professionalism

Outside of your external appearance and demeanor, remember that everything you say and do reflects your ethical principles and moral values. Nurses should always exhibit professionalism in front of patients, but also with colleagues as well.

Professionalism is a nursing skill encompassing many areas: respect, attitude, integrity, responsibility, and discipline to name a few. Focus on your daily work as part of a collaborative whole, and remember that your day-to-day role and responsibilities are only part of the larger picture of patient care.

Tackling your work with a sense of professionalism reflects your dedication to the altruistic ideal of the nursing profession.          

3. Attention to Detail

Developing and perfecting your attention to detail not only ensures that you’ll avoid a medical mistake, but it also helps you give great patient care.

Focus on active listening—observing non-verbal cues from your patient as well as hearing their spoken words. This helps your patient feel understood, not just heard. It also helps you tune in on his or her unspoken concerns and needs.

Also try to consider your work from a different perspective. Think of your to-do list as “people-oriented” rather than “task-oriented”. Be present and mindful with each patient encounter and avoid the distraction of the thinking about the long list of other things waiting for you to do.

4. Critical Thinking 

Nurses must be problem-solvers. Time and resources are always in short supply, and the to-do list is long. Skills that help bring these into balance will make your life much easier. Critical thinking integrates information, evidence, outcomes, and experiences, and translates them into effective plans and solutions for patients.

Identify problems and don’t be afraid to discuss them with your supervisor. Keep current with the findings of professional journals and become involved with your facility’s quality improvement processes. These are just two ways that you can expand your critical thinking skills.

5. Compassion

Nurses are on the front lines dealing intensely with patients, their families, and barriers in the healthcare system. Maintaining compassion is essential to providing good care, but difficult to do in today’s environment.

Nurse fatigue is a real phenomenon that requires nurses to take care of themselves first to avoid. Exercise, meditation, or volunteerism can all be effective ways to reconnect and nurture the desire to help others that first led you toward a nursing career.

If you find you’re having trouble coping on your own, discuss your concerns with your nurse manager. More and more employers are engaging their nurses in courses on self-help techniques and stress management.

6. Time Management

Prioritize your work. Stay organized with personal checklists, flowcharts, or spreadsheets, and multi-task whenever possible. Utilize your nursing skills of anticipation, delegation, and supervision to this end.

Remember, good time management involves people management! Take the time to get to know and understand your facility’s available resources and maximize their use.

Lastly, find a nurse mentor or co-worker and brainstorm ways to maximize effective use of your time each day.

7. Communication

Nurses are the vital link between patients and providers and must communicate effectively with other healthcare personnel to coordinate patient care. Be concise and logical, and remember that how you communicate information is just as important (or more) as what you say.

The same holds true for patient communication.  Be calm, measured, professional, and reassuring when dealing with patients and their families. Use visual or written communication aids if they’re available and be cognizant of and open to exploring reasons for ineffective communication.

Lastly, remember that not everyone communicates in the same way. Take the time to get to know your patients and their families to develop communication strategies that are the most effective and efficient for each of them.

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