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September 27, 2019

Nursing & Healthcare

4 essential soft skills for nurses.

A nurse speaks with a patient lying in bed.

Nursing requires a great deal of technical skill. Nurses need to know how to insert IVs, use a stethoscope to listen to the sounds inside the human body, and measure a patient's blood pressure, to name a few.

And, sure, nurses use their technical skills every day, but soft skills are the foundation of good nursing. Because nurses holistically care for patients and juggle patient needs with demands from management, they need to cultivate non-technical skills to be successful.

Here are four soft skills for nurses that perfectly complement their technical skills.

1. Communication.

What's the first thing you learn in nursing school? Is it how to give a patient a bed bath? How to ambulate a patient? How to set a broken bone?

Nope. The first thing you learn is therapeutic communication—the art of understanding what a client is trying to tell you, through words or contextual and nonverbal cues, and how to respond in a way that improves their health or well-being.

Patients and their families often interact with nurses during trying times; when you're attentive to their medical needs and their emotions, it benefits their healing process. Formulating articulate, empathetic, and nonjudgmental responses to patients' questions and concerns is essential in nursing. Doing so while reiterating discharge instructions and explaining why interventions are important is a skill that nurses develop over time. Because good communication helps patients understand their medical situation and how they can recover from it, it's one of the most critical soft skills for nurses.

2. Critical thinking.

Critical thinking is a crucial tool for nurses because nursing is about information—gathering it through patient assessment, then interpreting it to determine a course of action.

Most of the time, critical thinking comes in the form of questions that ask why: Why is this patient out of breath? Why is their temperature elevated? Why do they suddenly seem confused?

By thinking critically about these and other questions and identifying the clues uncovered through patient assessment, nurses can provide early intervention for problems like sepsis, stroke, low blood sugar, and heart attack. When coupled with medical knowledge, the ability to notice changes and make critical connections about the patient's condition can save lives.

3. Advocacy.

Any nurse will tell you that patient advocacy is one of the central tenets of nursing. Strong advocates champion their patients' needs, and they will stand up to doctors, administration, and other nurses—even family members, if need be—to ensure that they're providing the best care.

Advocacy requires the courage to stand up to others, empathy for patients, and confidence in your skills and knowledge. According to Oncology Nursing News, nurses can be advocates by ensuring that patients are discharged to a safe environment, refusing to administer unsafe medications, ensuring patients clearly understand the doctor's instructions for a procedure, and connecting patients to resources once they leave your care.

4. Self-care.

Self-care is sometimes overlooked, but it's a critical soft skill for nurses. Nursing is emotional, mental, and physical work, and it can leave you tired, frustrated, and burned out. Being able to care for yourself after you clock out is essential to a long career in nursing.

Learning how to take care of yourself properly takes time and practice. It might mean finding a nutritionist, therapist, or trainer. Identifying your needs and devising a plan to fulfill them requires a mix of soft skills, including time management, confidence, and adaptability. Investing in your career means investing in yourself—and it can pay dividends.

If you're pursuing a nursing career, you'll need to practice and develop soft skills as you build technical and medical skills. Watch colleagues who model these skills successfully and implement their strategies. Ask for feedback from preceptors and mentors, and learn from your mistakes. (We all make them!) By doing so, you'll be an effective, trusted nurse who's able to improve hundreds—maybe thousands—of lives.

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