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Top 7 Soft Skills Every Nursing Student Needs

Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing, described nursing as an art. While you may not immediately appreciate it as a nursing student, you definitely will once you enter the creative world of real-life nursing. You will discover that nursing is an innovative application of knowledge and skills from diverse fields like science, clinical and technical practice, social awareness, and ethics.

Of course, it’s undeniable that technical skills and medical knowledge play a major role when nurses identify patient conditions and anticipate medication interactions. However, you will learn from experience that daily nursing work requires soft skills that are impossible to develop through nursing education alone.

Soft Skills: What They Are & Why They Matter to Nurses

When you pursue any type of nursing career, you will encounter patients who don’t know how to properly express their needs. You will communicate with doting family members who won’t leave a patient’s side. You will experience having difficult conversations with an older patient’s child. You will also need to endure stressful shifts when your unit is short-staffed and to assist co-workers who are struggling with their own patients.

These challenging situations require strong soft skills – those that are not strictly academic in nature. These skills fall under the umbrella of “emotional intelligence,” self-awareness, and self-regulation.

Your soft skills, or lack thereof, can have an effect on your personal and interpersonal actions as a nurse. It is essential that you master these skills since these are critical in shaping patients’ experiences and fostering camaraderie within your health care organization.

Soft Skills Every Nursing Student Should Develop

Most nursing students hear catch-all phrases for nursing soft skills, such as “bedside manner” and “compassion.” Future nurses like you can start honing your focus on these seven essential “people skills” during your time in school.

1. Communication

Communication is the cornerstone of nursing. Whether speaking one-on-one with a patient, family member, or physician, writing a report, reading lab results, or calling a team member, communication is involved in nearly all health care work tasks.

Nurses bridge the connection between the patient and the treatment. They function as their patients’ interpreters and educators. Therefore, nurses must be mindful of how they communicate with people outside their medical team.

Patients need to trust their nurses, so they will feel comfortable sharing symptoms that may seem embarrassing or upsetting. Family members need to trust nurses’ authority on scientific knowledge, so they can be open to accepting treatment options and care plans.

Future nurses like you can improve your communication skills by understanding non-verbal cues, like facial expressions, body positioning, and attention. These cues can help you analyze when and how you should react to other people. They can also aid you in formulating the best strategies for sharing information with others.

2. Empathy

An empathetic person is someone who is able to identify another person’s feelings and truly understand the experience of those feelings in a context unique to that person. It is commonly described as “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

An empathetic nurse explores various factors that form the whole identity of a patient – beliefs, cultural background, fears, comforts, and nonverbal cues. He or she utilizes this knowledge to tune into a patient’s true situation and needs. This fosters trust and respect in the relationship between a nurse and a patient, which makes the patient more inclined to accept the strategies and information communicated by the nurse.

Nursing students like you can begin improving your empathy skills by looking inward. What beliefs affect your everyday lives – academic, professional, and social? What influences shaped your beliefs? By being able to process and understand your own emotions, you can learn how to identify the thoughts and feelings of your future patients. This ability, in turn, will enable you to empathize with them.

3. Self-Motivation

Nursing isn’t easy work. While some patients express gratitude, many efforts of nurses may go unnoticed. The feeling of being taken for granted can be potentially discouraging and damaging to a nurse’s emotional well-being. This is especially true if a nurse does not take time to understand and internalize why he or she chose to become a nurse in the first place.

A self-motivated nurse has achievable goals that are in line with his or her work life. These goals can be short-term, long-term, or a combination of both. Either way, they are realistic and practical. They also provide context for work and learning experiences. Goals serve as an encouragement to persist when a nurse’s energy is low or when emotions take their toll on a nurse’s mental health.

Potential nurses, such as yourself, can start building self-motivation skills by reflecting on their current academic and career goals. How does your day-to-day life relate to your goals? By viewing the larger picture that smaller experiences gradually form, it will be easier for you to be motivated to keep pursuing the career path of a nurse.

4. Adaptability

Nursing is a fast-paced career. It often involves making on-the-spot decisions about matters that can be difficult to predict. Patients change their minds. Symptoms return. Work shifts change. Assignments are rearranged.

Because real life isn’t exactly like a textbook scenario, future nurses like you need to develop adaptability skills as early as now. You should learn how to be flexible to prepare you to face changing work demands and evolving patient needs.

Adaptability is a mental and behavioral process. It involves an awareness of the current situation within the context of a larger perspective that enables a person to see tasks and obstacles through to completion. An adaptable nurse will do what needs to get done, even if the responsibility appears to be more inconvenient or difficult than expected.

Even when confronted with a higher level of physical or cognitive task than they originally anticipated, flexible nurses will face it with minimal stress. Adaptability skills can help lead to better career satisfaction and less chance of career burnout for nurses.

5. Critical Thinking

In the health care field, decisions are often made in stressful or changing environments. Sometimes, nurses need to make tough choices even if they are faced with incomplete information and pressure of time. Without the ability to pull together observations, knowledge, and experience to generate solutions, nurses will find themselves struggling to keep up with challenging situations.

Critical thinking involves asking questions and searching for answers to get to the heart of a problem, and ultimately, to utilize relevant information to arrive at an effective solution. Because critical thinking isn’t exclusive to solving nursing problems, nursing students like yourself can practice and apply critical thinking in any area of your life, from household chores to study techniques to personal projects.

6. Teamwork

Nurses are not meant to work alone. Aside from nursing professionals, CNAs, APNs, medical technologists, electronic health record keepers, social workers, physician assistants, and physicians also contribute to a patient’s diagnosis and recovery. While their roles in the health care field are different, and while their work tasks are fulfilled independently, their target achievement is the same: improving a patient’s health and well-being.

If nurses and the rest of the team members are aware that they are all working toward a shared goal, it makes teamwork effective. It inspires a spirit of camaraderie and honesty when team members communicate the information they gained in their roles, as well as the limitations of their individual work, to each other. The best team members understand their individual contribution to the team, as well as the small and large impacts of their work.

You should begin to flex your teamwork skills as early as now. There are plenty of opportunities to practice teamwork in your nursing school and within your social circles and family groups.

7. Professionalism

Because the work of nurses has a direct effect on a patient’s experience, nurses are required to uphold certain standards and to follow them across all nursing training programs and work positions. These standards are based on academic knowledge, societal values, and ethical studies.

Guiding principles for nurses are meant to form and maintain health care environments that prioritize accurate scientific practice and quality patient care. Standards like these are also meant to create a place in the community for better health care organizations.

Nurses need to recognize the human and emotional component of their work while remaining true to their duties as leaders in the health care field. Because nurses have the most patient contact and impact, their work not only demonstrates a commitment to advancing medicine but also puts them at the forefront of improving human lives.

As you prepare for a career in the nursing field, you can already start applying professionalism in all aspects of your life, especially in your nursing education and training.

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