14 Vital Nursing Skills for Success

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There are many skills needed to be a nurse. Some of the essential hard nursing skills include emergency care, medical technology, patient transport, and medication management. Important soft skills for nurses include communication, time management, professionalism, empathy, and teamwork. You can learn these skills in nursing school and through experience.

nurse writing on clipboard

Are you in search of a career that offers personal fulfillment and the opportunity to serve others in your community? Perhaps nursing could be the right choice for you. Although rewarding, this career isn’t without its challenges. It’s important for nurses to have — or be willing to develop — the essential nursing skills needed for success.

It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily need to possess all of these nursing skills immediately upon applying for nursing school. You’ll have opportunities to develop and practice both hard and soft skills throughout your nursing degree program. Indeed, nursing is a career characterized by lifelong education; you’ll never stop learning and growing throughout your career as a nurse.

Essential Hard Skills for Nurses

The essential nursing skills encompass both hard and soft skills. Hard skills refer to technical skills that draw upon field-specific knowledge. In the nursing field, this can refer to everything from being able to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to knowing how to identify the signs of ketoacidosis.

1. Urgent and Emergency Nursing Skills

Nurses need to know how to quickly triage a critically ill or injured patient and provide emergency care when needed. Emergency care includes initiating CPR and performing basic life support (BLS). In fact, nurses generally need to be certified in CPR and BLS before applying for their first nursing job.

Even if you don’t plan on working in an emergency room, trauma center, or urgent care center, it’s crucial to possess these basic nursing skills. Medical emergencies can happen anywhere at any time. Even if you're a school nurse or you work in an oncology center, a patient may develop a serious or life-threatening medical condition at any time.

nurses standing in a hospital

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2. Patient and Family Medical History

All nurses need to know how to take a patient's medical history and their family medical history. It's an essential component of the patient assessment process. Nurses should always ask patients about their diagnosed medical conditions—including allergies and drug reactions—as well as the medications and supplements they're taking. (Patients may sometimes be unaware that supplements may interact with prescribed medications or be potentially harmful for certain medical conditions, so it's important to ask specifically about supplements.)

3. Patient and Family Caregiver Education

In some cases, soft skills and hard skills can overlap. Communication is a soft skill, yet it is essential for this particular hard skill. Almost all types of nurses need to be able to deliver well-informed and clearly understandable patient and family caregiver education. This includes helping patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options, as well as how to care for themselves after their discharge.

smiling Xavier nursing student

4. Patient Safety

Adhering to patient safety protocols and procedures is one of the most important skills needed to be a nurse. By prioritizing patient safety, you can reduce the risk that a medical error will cause harm to your patients.

Patient safety includes:

  • Following infection control procedures
  • Engaging in clear, open communication with your fellow nurses and other health-care providers
  • Adhering to evidence-based practices
  • Encouraging patient engagement
  • Emphasizing patient and family caregiver education

Are you wondering what type of nurse you should be? Explore some options here!

smiling nurse with other nurses standing in background

5. Medical Technology Skills

Ideally, nurses should be reasonably tech-savvy or be willing to learn how to use new technologies. These include medical equipment, telemedicine platforms, electronic health records (EHRs), wearable devices, and workplace computer systems.

6. Medication Management

Most nurses aren't authorized to prescribe medication, but all nurses can aid in medication management. Nurses need to know not only how to administer oral, intravenous, injected, and inhaled medications properly but also using clinical judgment to titrate medications.

Essential Soft Skills for Nurses

Along with the basic nursing skills listed above, nurses need certain soft skills in order to excel at their job. Soft skills are personal characteristics and abilities that enable a person to carry out the functions of their job. Soft skills aren’t specific to any one field. Rather, they are applicable in a broad range of settings.

7. Communication Skills

Communication skills are among the most important soft skills for nurses because they are at the heart of what these health-care professionals do. Nurses need to communicate clearly with their fellow nurses, as well as with physicians, technicians, and other health-care providers. They also need to communicate with patients, family caregivers, and for some nurses, with the general public.

Communication skills encompass active listening, speaking, and written communication. A nurse who excels at communication will not only be able to reduce the risk of misunderstandings by clearly expressing important concepts, but also be able to convey empathy and reassurance to people experiencing health crises.

four nurses with patient

8. Empathy and Compassion

Speaking of empathy, this is another important skill for a nurse to have. Empathy refers to the ability to understand and relate to what another person is experiencing. Compassion is the emotional response to what another person is enduring, and compassion can often trigger a desire to help other people.

Empathy and compassion are important skills for nurses because they work with patients who are experiencing tough times and difficult decisions. A nurse with these soft skills is better able to support their patients and provide much-needed guidance.

9. Teamwork and Collaboration

All nurses need to be able to work as part of a well-functioning team, and collaboration among fellow nurses and other health-care providers helps ensure that patients receive proper medical care.

Some essential nursing skills that fall into the category of teamwork and collaboration include:

  • Building rapport
  • Conflict resolution
  • Problem-solving
  • Respect and tolerance
  • Open-mindedness
  • Dependability
  • Active listening

10. Physical and Mental Endurance

Nurses need both physical and mental endurance, although the degree to which these characteristics are helpful is often dependent on one’s nursing specialty. A public health nurse, for example, might rely on mental endurance more than physical endurance, while an ER nurse needs both in plentiful supply.

xavier absn student listening in stethoscope

Depending on your nursing specialty, you can generally expect to work long hours (and possibly unexpected overtime due to staff shortages), spending much of that time on your feet while caring for many different patients. It’s helpful to have stamina.

11. Professionalism and Ethics

All nurses need to be committed to uphold strict standards of ethics in the workplace. They need to be capable of working with confidential information without inappropriately releasing sensitive details to unauthorized parties, and they need to be able to conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times during their shift.

nurse sitting in class looking at camera

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12. Adaptability and Flexibility

Anything can happen during a nursing shift. Priorities may shift unexpectedly, the condition of a patient may suddenly deteriorate, or the department may receive an abrupt influx of patients. Nurses need to be flexible and able to adapt to changes in circumstances.

13. Time Management

The day-to-day life of a nurse is busy! Nurses need to execute basic patient care tasks in a timely manner, as well as monitor their patients' recoveries, field questions from family members, and coordinate care plans with other providers — just to name a few tasks. Time management skills are essential for ensuring nurses can get everything done during their shifts.

14. Attention to Detail

Although nurses are incredibly busy, it’s important that they be able to pay attention to each detail. For example, skimming over a patient’s list of medications instead of reading it carefully can lead to a medication error. Nurses need to pay careful attention to patients when they discuss their symptoms and ensure correct documentation in their patients’ EHRs.

nurse using whiteboard

Develop the Skills Needed to Be a Nurse at Xavier University

If you’ve decided that nursing is the right choice for you, you can prepare for a meaningful career at Xavier University. Our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program can allow you to earn a nursing degree in as few as 16 months if you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree.

At Xavier, you’ll work through convenient online coursework paired with onsite nursing skills and simulation labs, as well as clinical rotations. These experiential learning components can allow you to develop important nursing skills you’ll need throughout your career.

To learn if our ABSN program is right for you, contact one of our friendly admission counselors today.