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Nursing is both a demanding and rewarding career. It’s also the largest healthcare profession in the nation, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, with 3.8 million registered nurses (RNs) working across the country. As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports, jobs for registered nurses are expected to grow by 7% between 2019 and 2029.


While demand is growing, the country faces a serious shortage of qualified nurses to fill those roles. When workforce exits and career transitions are factored in with job growth, the BLS projects that there will be 175,900 RN job openings each year between 2019 and 2029.


With promising job growth and work that plays an important role in helping people and communities, nursing is a compelling career choice. However, those interested in pursuing this path must understand the skills needed to be a nurse. Beyond clinical and technical skills such as knowing how to monitor vital signs and deliver emergency care, soft skills are crucial to nursing, which involves interpersonal relations and dealing with often sensitive information. Nurses without the proper training and preparation can experience nurse burnout due to long hours and emotionally taxing work environments. In fact, over 15% of nurses report feeling burnout in their work.


That’s why nonclinical skills such as time management and critical thinking are so important. They can prepare current and prospective nurses for successful and lasting careers in their field. The following eight nonclinical skills are especially important for individuals who want to become top-quality nurses.

1. Nurse professionalism among patients and colleagues

Professionalism in nursing includes taking responsibility for one’s actions and communicating respectfully with patients, families, colleagues, and doctors. It also involves being open to teamwork and collaboration, upholding the moral principles and best practices expected of healthcare professionals, and keeping nursing knowledge up to date.


The Nursing & Midwifery Council defines professional standards in four key areas:


  • Prioritizing people
    • Treating patients as individuals by showing respect, kindness, and compassion
    • Listening to patients and working with them to deliver effective, personalized treatment
    • Addressing the physical and psychological needs of patients, and advocating for the vulnerable
    • Putting the best interests of patients first, including acknowledging their right to accept or refuse treatment and receiving consent before providing care
    • Respecting patients’ privacy by telling them how their information will be used


  • Practicing effectively
    • Using the best available and up-to-date information to make evidence-based decisions in practice
    • Communicating clearly with patients and colleagues, taking into account language barriers, cultural differences, and non-verbal communication tactics
    • Working cooperatively with others by supporting colleagues, sharing important information, and evaluating each other’s work
    • Sharing skills and knowledge, providing constructive feedback, and engaging in respectful debate
    • Keeping complete, updated, and properly stored records
    • Delegating tasks to others with proper supervision, guidance, and instructions


  • Preserving safety
    • Working within the limits of your abilities by acknowledging gaps in skills and knowledge and referring patients to other professionals who can provide the required care
    • Being honest about mistakes or harmful situations, informing all who need to know, and acting immediately to resolve issues
    • Offering help to others in emergency situations, even if they’re not under your purview
    • Prescribing and administering medication according to the law, your training level, and the patient’s unique needs
    • Taking the necessary precautions to reduce harm and risk


  • Promoting professionalism and trust
    • Upholding the integrity and reputation of the nursing profession by being objective, honest, and unbiased in your work
    • Cooperating with investigations, audits, and disciplinary actions
    • Reflecting on complaints and learning from feedback
    • Leading and supporting other staff in maintaining these standards and delivering the best possible care


Professionalism can help improve communication and outcomes. By maintaining a professional attitude and demeanor, nurses can put patients at ease and hold their co-workers to higher standards, ensuring that everyone delivers consistent, quality care.

2. Critical thinking skills in nursing practice

Nurses must think on their feet and make complex, split-second decisions that impact people’s lives. For example, nurses often monitor and assess a patient’s progress; if they notice an issue, they must decide in an instant whether to act themselves or call other professionals for help.


Key critical thinking skills in nursing include:


  • Interpreting: Using your knowledge and skills to understand information, including patient data and behavior
  • Analyzing: Using data and objective reasoning to examine all aspects of a decision or problem
  • Evaluating: Assessing information to decide if it is sufficient, accurate, and reliable, and to understand how it will affect patient outcomes
  • Explaining: Clearly and transparently communicating your findings and decisions
  • Self-regulating: Checking your own work and biases to improve your practice and ensure you’re providing optimal care


Critical thinking skills in nursing are crucial for analyzing data and patient outcomes as well as managing different patients at once. In sharpening their critical thinking skills, nurses should also avoid common pitfalls, such as panicking in emergency situations and letting biases about patients’ backgrounds or their own experiences affect their decision-making.

3. Time management for nurse workloads

Time management for nurses is critical to their success. Nurses work different types of schedules depending on their role, their employer, and patients’ needs. One common nursing shift involves working three 12-hour days a week. Long hours can contribute to poor work-life balance, burnout, and exhaustion. Those 12-hour shifts can also run longer, swallowing up whole days and nights, and leaving little room for self-care, time with family and friends, and other responsibilities.


These tips can help nurses manage their schedules and make sure they don’t neglect their own needs:


  • Prioritize tasks. Create a schedule and checklist of work-related and personal responsibilities, and decide how to prioritize them ahead of time.
  • Learn to say no. Be OK with turning down that extra shift or telling friends you can’t take that daytrip with them. Allow yourself time to rest and recuperate.
  • Don’t be afraid to delegate. Work with your team members to spread out your tasks and shift responsibilities to others if needed.
  • Use available resources. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help with time management from mentors, colleagues, and family.

Resources for nurse time management

Time management can be difficult for nurses with ever-changing schedules and long shifts. Use these time-management resources to maintain a better work-life balance:



Seven tips to help nurses manage their time.

More than 15% of nurses report feelings of burnout in their work. Use these time-management tips to better care for yourself while you care for others: 1. Prioritize tasks; 2. Set a manageable routine; 3. Learn to say no; 4. Build a support system; 5. Don’t be afraid to delegate; 6. Make sure you communicate; 7. Give yourself breaks.

4. Nurse communication with patients, families, and staff

Nurses must be effective communicators as they often relay sensitive and complex information to patients, families, and colleagues. Clearly communicating instructions for taking or administering medication and updating doctors on patients’ conditions are key to providing quality care.


Nurses must also be good listeners to pick up on patients’ feedback and concerns. Some patients may not be comfortable verbalizing their health issues, so nurses should be able to discern nonverbal cues and respond with care and consideration.


Nurse communication skills can be improved by:


  • Practicing active listening and being fully present with patients
  • Maintaining eye contact to establish trust and put patients at ease
  • Considering your body language to display confidence, engagement and respect
  • Educating patients without medical jargon or condescending tones, and providing them with the information they need to feel safe and comfortable in your care
  • Keeping your word and only stating what you mean
  • Writing in clear and complete sentences to ensure patient records are easily understood
  • Advocating for patient needs and concerns in conversation with other colleagues and healthcare professionals
  • Using visual aids in presentations to patients or colleagues
  • Providing feedback and asking questions to create a dialogue with patients
  • Breaking down complex clinical information into accessible language for patients and families
  • Speaking with empathy, respect, and consideration for patients’ feelings

5. Nurse empathy with patients

Nurses should convey empathy with patients and their families, especially as they guide them through difficult diagnoses and serious health issues. According to Psychology Today, empathy is defined as “the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person.”


This doesn’t mean nurses should become emotionally attached to each patient, which can contribute to burnout and fatigue. Rather, nurse empathy involves being open to hearing patients’ concerns in a respectful and compassionate manner, and taking the time to connect with each patient one-on-one and consider their unique situations while providing care.


To help nurses better practice empathy and respond to emotion in their roles, training organization VitalTalk created this handy N.U.R.S.E. acronym:


  • Name the emotion.
    • Example: “It sounds like you are concerned.”
  • Understand the emotion.
    • Example: “I understand that this is a stressful situation.”
  • Respect the patient.
    • Example: “You’ve been doing a great job.”
  • Support the patient’s needs.
    • Example: “I’ll do what I can to make this a comfortable experience for you.”
  • Explore and ask questions.
    • Example: “Tell me more about what you’re feeling.”

6. Cultural awareness in nursing and healthcare

Cultural awareness is essential when working with patients of different backgrounds and experiences. A patient’s religion, for example, may prohibit certain medications or treatments, and their socioeconomic status may affect their ability to access services and healthcare resources.


Nurses can build cultural awareness by being honest with themselves and confronting their own biases, increasing their knowledge of different cultures, and approaching each person with compassion and respect. Most importantly, they should be committed to providing high-quality care to all patients, regardless of their culture, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.


Cultural competency experts Quality Interactions offer a cultural awareness checklist for healthcare workers:


  1. Establish clear communication. Learn patients’ preferred communication method and arrange for translators if necessary.
  2. Acknowledge nonverbal communication without judgment. Be aware of cultural differences in body language and other types of communication.
  3. Inquire about relevant customs. Ask patients about religious, dietary, or cultural norms that may affect treatment and care.
  4. Use normalizing language. When inquiring about potentially sensitive issues that may affect treatment, reassure patients that their needs are common and respected.
  5. Examine biases. Identify and control your own unconscious prejudices.

Resources for cultural awareness in nursing

Nurses work with people from many different backgrounds and experiences, and must be able to listen to, communicate with, and accommodate patients of various cultures. These resources can help build cultural awareness:


Eight resume-building skills for nurses.

Beyond clinical skills, these practical and soft skills can help nurses improve their job prospects and build successful careers: Professionalism, critical thinking, time management, communication, empathy, cultural awareness, positivity, and flexibility.

7. Positivity: Understanding organizational culture in nursing

Organizational culture refers to the ethics, values, and practices of the medical settings where nurses work. A strong organizational culture embraced by all employees can have a positive impact on patient care, staff retention, and job satisfaction.


Because nurses play such a vital role in healthcare, they have valuable opportunities to impact and improve their organizations. One of the best ways to influence organizational culture in nursing is by maintaining a positive attitude. Medical facilities by nature can be tense, stressful, and emotionally overwhelming. By remaining positive in difficult situations, nurses can set the tone for their colleagues and patients and build a sense of calm and professionalism.


Positivity in the workplace can also serve to increase collaboration, teamwork, and confidence, allowing doctors and nurses to work together to improve patient outcomes.


Specific tips for maintaining positivity in nursing include:


  • Providing positive reinforcement.
    • Example: “You’re so good at explaining how this process works.”
  • Expressing thanks.
    • Example: “I appreciate your thorough notes.”
  • Motivating colleagues.
    • Example: “You made such an impact on that patient.”
  • Celebrating successes.
    • Example: “Our teamwork and communication really helped in that situation.”
  • Avoiding defensive reactions.
    • Example: “That’s a good point. I’ll make a note of that.”
  • Turning complaints into actionable solutions.
    • Example: “That patient’s family was a bit rude, but I can take this opportunity to better explain our treatment plan and try to assuage some of their concerns.”


Along with voicing positivity, nurses can also spread positivity by encouraging group activities like lunches, walks, and clubs to keep colleagues bonding and connected outside of a stressful work environment. They can also practice self-care by exercising, saying no to extra shifts, and making time for relaxation, ensuring that they’re more present and engaged while at work.

Resources for positivity in nursing

    Nurses can use these resources to stay positive in their practice and help inspire and motivate the people they work with:


    8. Flexibility in nursing

    Flexibility is a skill that nurses rely on daily, whether they are jumping between patients, covering different floors or departments, handling emergencies, adjusting their work-life schedules, or accommodating influxes of patients during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Flexibility in nursing also requires adapting to new medical technologies, such as electronic health records, which can roll out quickly.


    Flexibility can be a boon to nurses because it allows them to explore different career paths, locations, and opportunities for advancement. Many nurses travel for work, for example, or go on to pursue advanced roles such as nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner, or pediatric nurse.

    Nurse skills recommended for your resume

    While the number of openings in nursing is increasing, applicants still need to stand out by showing that they have the valuable skills needed to be a nurse. Alongside clinical proficiencies, employers seek out the soft skills that transform a competent nurse into a leader. When considering nurse skills for your resume, include these key traits. They signify an understanding of the importance of the soft skills required for such a demanding role. Successful nurses don’t just react to emergency situations, they use critical thinking to spot potential issues before they arise. They don’t just take patients’ vitals; they communicate with empathy, care, and professionalism.


    With these nonclinical skills, nurses can polish their resumes, improve their job prospects, and build rewarding careers at the top of their field.


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