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Top 9 Qualities of a Great Nurse

Nursing is not an easy career choice. It can be rewarding at its best, but it is also demanding, requiring hard work and a vast amount of practical knowledge. But becoming a great nurse requires more than working long shifts and having an encyclopedic understanding of the nursing field.

Great nurses combine their practical skills with an unwavering devotion to their patients. They look at their patients as whole human beings and focus their patient care accordingly. While each nurse brings their own unique qualities to their work, there are several top qualities held by the best nurses in the health care field.

1. Analytical

Nurses work in high-stress environments. A patient’s condition can change at any moment. It’s important to have the ability to analyze any situation with a clear-mind while paying attention to the smallest details. Then you have to be able to take that information and, with your past experiences in mind, determine the best possible option, sometimes in a matter of seconds.

Anyone who has studied for an exam in nursing school knows that while there may be many “right” answers to a problem, there is always the “best” answer. Being able to analyze the situation and take the pros and cons of decisions into account is a vital quality of a great nurse.

Gain this quality: Question your environment while caring for your patient. Many nurses call this skill a “nurse’s sense,” and it takes time and a desire to learn more to develop. When you first start out, explore all of the options in any given situation, as time permits. Know what your facility’s policies are, and ask questions from your coworkers. The more you make decisions with an analytical mindset, the better you will be able to respond with the best options in high-stress moments.

2. Communicative

Working in the healthcare system requires consistent and clear communication, both written and verbal. As a nurse, you communicate with your patients, your patients’ families, and other health care workers. Mistakes in charting or writing down the wrong prescription can have devastating results, and many times, these mistakes come about simply because of miscommunication. A great nurse is aware that communication skills help gain the trust of their patients and their fellow staff.

Gain this quality: Pay attention during every conversation you have. This could be with your supervisor, your fellow nurses, and your patients. If it’s shift change and you’re getting a report, pay attention and take notes, as your facility’s policies allow.

Practice active listening and offer feedback to the patient. This means taking the time to be engaged in a conversation by offering more detailed responses or verbally summarizing what a patient is telling you to make sure you understood correctly. 

You may need to consciously stop yourself from multitasking when someone is trying to tell you something. Shifts can be busy, and it sometimes feels like you have to run from room to room to get anything done, but taking a moment to listen and talk can help avoid mistakes. 

3. Cooperative

During your nursing career, you may find yourself working with people from different cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, and age groups. Keeping an open mind, listening to differing opinions, and learning the differences between your culture and the culture of others and you can best respect them is a vital quality of a great nurse. 

Cooperation is also the ability to work within a team environment for the betterment of the patient. Patient care is wholly a team effort, and this includes the patients and their families as well as other health care professionals. The most important person in a patient care team is the patient, and a good nurse knows that gaining a patient’s cooperation is a vital step in their treatment.

Gain this quality: Challenge yourself to look and change up your usual routine. Ask a coworker how they handle a situation or problem you’re struggling with. You may find a different and more efficient way of doing something by keeping an open mind. 

You can also take the time to speak with other people from different cultures and backgrounds. They have different expectations that might affect their care or their desire to cooperate with you and other nursing staff. Don’t assume that everyone in a particular culture behaves the same way. Watch for cues from patients and their family members, and be respectful in your approach. 

4. Coordinating

Being a strong coordinator includes the ability to organize and efficiently delegate tasks. A nurse’s day is filled with many tasks and often many patients, and it can sometimes feel like you are being pulled into too many directions at once. But often you are not the only one who can help provide your patients with the care they need. By coordinating care and duties with others involved in patient care, you will be better able to accomplish daily duties.

Gain this quality: Take advantage of any software that helps you keep your time organized, like an electronic medication record that tells you when medications or charting is due for which patient. If you can, write yourself a checklist at the beginning of the shift that prioritizes your tasks and update it as needed.  

Learn how to prioritize your responsibilities, so you can tackle the ones that will affect patient care the most first. Cooperate with your fellow health care staff and your patients, which means delegating as needed or asking for help. 

5. Disseminates Knowledge

No matter how long you have worked in the nursing field, there is always something more to learn and to share. The health care field is always changing as we learn more about the human body and we develop new technology and medication. It’s important to keep up to date on the latest developments and changes in your field through in-services and through your own daily efforts. Additionally, sharing this knowledge with your patients by explaining it in ways they can understand helps you retain and apply that knowledge.

Gain this quality: Be creative with how you share what you know, but use language that your audience understands. Patients don’t always know medical terms or how they apply to their diagnosis and treatments. If you are sharing your knowledge with people outside of your field, you may also need to adjust your language so you can be better understood. 

Always be looking for new sources of information. One often reliable source is peer-reviewed articles from nursing journals, like the ones you may have used in school. Many specialties also have non-profit organizations with websites that keep the most updated news about your specialty. You can also look to join online groups for your nursing specialty, so you can connect and learn from others. And you can ask and share with your fellow nurses and doctors in your own facility.

6. Empathic

Empathy may not come easy to everyone, but being able to relate to a patient from their point of view is an essential quality of a great nurse. By connecting emotionally and personally with patients, you open up the opportunity for a patient to feel comfortable to share with you their own emotions and personal experiences. 

Understanding what the patient is going through while not getting wrapped up in it yourself is a delicate process. But gaining the trust of your patients and taking the time to understand where their thoughts and emotions are coming from can help you defuse stressful situations or identify areas where you should focus your patient care.

Gain this quality: Try to see the situation in their eyes. You may not have had the same experience or illness as they have, but you have likely been sick or felt scared or angry at some time before in your own life. 

Ask yourself what you’d want someone to do for you when you have felt those emotions and start there, adjusting your approach as you learn more about your patient. But don’t let your own past experiences overshadow your patient’s needs in the moment. Listen more than you talk, and approach your care for that patient with a personalized outlook.

7. Innovative

Being innovative as a nurse isn’t always about creating an entirely new concept, nor is it about going against policies without reason. Instead, it’s working with the equipment, protocol, or materials already available to you in a fresh or inventive way. Perhaps this new way could tailor a patient care plan better to your patient’s situation or improve a task’s efficiency. 

Innovation shows that you can think outside of the box and look at patient care holistically rather than a routine step-by-step process. You acknowledge that each person and task is different when it comes to a patient’s entire wellbeing, and you work within your boundaries to treat them with that in mind.

Gain this quality: Recognize that you are innovating with each new patient you work with by personalizing your routine, duties and even the way you speak to them. Look at the way you already change your tasks based on a person’s personality or diagnosis. By seeing what you are already doing, you can consciously make more decisions to better personalize patient care and be truly innovative.

8. Introspective

Being introspective, or self-aware, is a vitally necessary quality of a great nurse. Nursing can take a toll physically, emotionally, and mentally, and nurse burnout is a major issue in the field. Awareness of your own needs and self-care is critical to being reliable to the job and to yourself. Acknowledge the importance of self-improvement, and learn about your strengths and limitations. This can give you the courage to build up your skills or gain knowledge to better develop yourself as a person and a nurse.

Gain this quality: Ask yourself how you are handling challenges or stressful situations. Listen to what emotions or thoughts come up. Have an open dialogue with someone you trust and be open to switching things up if your current self-care routine isn’t working. As a nurse, you can’t take care of others to the best standards of quality patient care if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

9. Patience

Long hours, delayed test results, and sleep-deprived patients are a few of the many difficulties nurses have to deal with each shift. Practicing patience can help nurses respond to these challenges with better ease and understanding. This in turn lowers the stress levels of all those involved. Nurses have an incredible amount of responsibility and accountability. Rushing through duties can make bad situations worse or cause problems where there weren’t any to start with. 

Gain this quality: Take a deep breath or step away if you find yourself losing patience. It can be difficult during a busy shift when everything seems to be going wrong. But take the time to learn the best ways that you can to clear your head from the stress. Find what works for you in these moments of losing patience, and make the decision now to take a moment to regroup your thoughts. 

Even as the health care field constantly changes nearly every day, the core qualities of a great nurse stay the same. Although some traits may be second nature to some, it’s worth a look at what may be difficult for you. Focusing on these areas and asking for support and assistance in your growth will take you far in your career and personal development.

If you’re already a nurse, you can find some great facilities that need you. Pick up per-diem shifts with Clipboard Health.

Michelle Paul

Michelle Paul is an RN Content Specialist at Clipboard Health. She has worked with a variety of patient demographics, ranging from young adults in foreign countries, to elderly residents in skilled nursing facilities, to healthy blood donors in her community. Her experience in content creation gives her a unique perspective on communication within the healthcare field.

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