Five Must Have Qualities to Be a Great Nurse

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, by 2020, the United States will need to add 1.2 million nurses to the existing workforce. This number does not account for the millions of nurses that will be needed to replace those who will be retiring during the next five to six years. While many students and adults exploring the options for a career change see nursing as a profession with a favorable outlook, a person needs to have certain aptitude and traits to be successful as a nurse.

If you are considering a profession in nursing, ask yourself if you have these five essential qualities to be a great nurse:

Ability to Convey Empathy and Compassion

When asked to think of one word that describes a nurse, most people respond with the word “caring.” Nurses not only attend to their patients’ medical needs, but also their emotional ones as well. While most people have some sense of what it is like to be sick, nurses are able to convey in both their words and actions that they understand their patient’s fears, pain, and sadness about their illness or injury. Even if patients do not talk about their thoughts and feelings, a great nurse knows by intuition, reading non-verbal cues, or experience what their patients are enduring.

While nurses express understanding for their patient’s situations, they do so in a manner that does not send the message that the patient is a victim. Through their actions, expressions, and words, nurses encourage and empower their patients. Often this sense of self-determination is what helps patient garner the strength to heal and recuperate.

Physical and Psychological Resiliency

The work of nurses is physically demanding. From running down halls to respond to a patient who has gone into cardiac arrest to picking up a child who has fallen, many of the tasks nurses do on an everyday basis require strength and stamina. Additionally, most nurses work 12-hour shifts that have the potential to go hours longer, which means people who are considering nursing as a careers also are able to endure hours on their feet.

Nursing does not only require physical fitness, but nurses also need to be in top condition psychologically as well. During a single shift, a nurse might celebrate the birth of a new healthy child, while consoling a family in the next room whose newborn just died. An individual who wants to enter the nursing profession needs to be able to deal with this kind of emotional roller-coaster while appearing calm and confident. Additionally, nurses also have the stress of knowing their decisions have a direct impact on the health and well being of their patients.

The key to physical and emotional resilience is the ability to establish boundaries between work and personal time. A person who tends to replay every moment of their day or obsessively second guess their decisions is not likely to last long in the nursing profession in a direct care role. An individual with these qualities might want to consider options as a nurse educator, administrator, or in case management.

Detail Oriented, Observant, and Highly Organized

One of the keys aspects of a nurses job is to notice slight changes is a patient’s appearance, vital signs, and other indicators of a patient’s well being. In essence, nurses act as the eyes and ears for doctors, especially in a hospital setting. Additionally, nursing professionals also need to document in detail all their observations in their patient’s charts. Since they often are not able to take the time to chart until the end of their shift, nurses need to have some way to keep their notes organized. Additionally, since nurses have so many tasks to complete in a limited amount of time, they need to be able to prioritize their work and organize their time efficiently.

Decisive and Knowledge-Based Judgments

Every decision nurses make has the potential to affect the health of their patients. Since nurses often have to make judgment calls in a split-second, often when a person is in crisis, they need to have a broad and sound fund of knowledge on which to base their decisions. Medical science and technology is constantly advancing, so nurses need to have an innate intellectual curiosity and commitment to continuing education to stay up-to-date on the best practices in their specialty area.

Strong Communication and Interpersonal Skills to Facilitate Collaborative Work

Whether a nurse works in a hospital setting or in a doctor’s office, s/he is a member of a team. Modern healthcare is a collaborative effort among a variety of disciplines. For a multidisciplinary team to work effectively, each member needs to have an understanding his or her role on the team, the role of each person on the team, and respect the contributions of others. As a key player on a multidisciplinary team, a nurse needs to communicate clearly and objectively. When a nurse provides feedback to another person on the team, s/he needs to frame it in a constructive and balanced manner. Additionally, personal ambitions and need for ego boosting have no place in a team meeting. This means that nurses need to possess a positive view of themselves, while being open to positive criticism.

The good news is that if a person who is considering a nursing profession does not have these skills, it is possible to develop them. If you have concerns as to whether nursing is the right healthcare profession for you, consider discussing a nursing career with a nurse educator or seeking a volunteer position in a healthcare setting. This experience will help you decide if you have the qualities required to be a great nurse.

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