10 Crucial Soft Skills for Nurses

NurseJournal Staff
Updated March 22, 2023
    This guide highlights the essential soft skills needed to be a nurse — communication, critical thinking, physical fitness, professionalism, and teamwork — and how to learn them.
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    In the medical field, doctors’ and nurses’ interpersonal interactions with their patients are a vital component of successful treatment. While these professionals primarily diagnose and treat illnesses, treatment often needs more than what scientific knowledge can provide.

    What happens when a patient becomes emotionally volatile after a diagnosis? When and how is it appropriate to provide families with hope in the face of a potentially fatal disease? How can healthcare professionals transition from treating a patient who has lost their life to a patient who needs emotional support to process their condition?

    In addition to providing appropriate medical treatments, nurses also need to consider their personal interactions with patients. Professionals must remain compassionate without sacrificing their emotional well-being by developing soft skills in nursing.

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    Developing crucial soft skills can allow nurses to grow professionally and personally in the fast-paced and stress-inducing medical settings.

    1. Communication

    Nurses must ask questions respectfully and carefully listen to patient responses to obtain accurate assessment data. This is extremely important, since other healthcare staff rely on the information nurses collect. Nurses must convey treatment and recovery plans clearly and effectively to their patients.

    The best communicators employ sincerity, kindness, and confidentiality. Nurses who communicate effectively can signal empathy to patients and their families to improve care.

    2. Critical Thinking

    Nurses make crucial decisions that can save lives. When considering patient care, nurses must approach problems with clarity, logic, and precision.

    Critical thinking includes interpreting information or events, analyzing data, and evaluating outcomes. This skill also requires self-regulation, where nurses check their thought processes for assumptions or bias.

    3. Compassion

    In unfamiliar, emotionally stressful environments like hospitals, patients can become overwhelmed. They might experience intense anxiety over a pending diagnosis, frustration that their recovery is not going smoothly, or anger over unmet needs.

    Approaching patients compassionately is crucial. Providing sympathetic care for vulnerable patients can help them feel safer and happier, reducing stress for nurses.

    4. Professionalism

    Employers value staff who perform their jobs with professionalism. Remaining professional fosters trust and instills confidence in patients. In addition, maintaining professional relationships with patients can prevent nurses from becoming too involved, reducing emotional burnout.

    Professionalism also includes maintaining necessary credentials and keeping up to date through continuing education and professional development opportunities.

    5. Teamwork

    Beyond patient interactions, nurses also need to work well with others on their care team, including doctors and other nurses. Interdisciplinary teams of healthcare professionals positively affect patient outcomes and safety.

    Nurses must communicate with team members, understand workplace culture, resolve conflicts, and accept team decisions. Other attributes of successful team members include honesty, discipline, creativity, humility, and curiosity.

    Members of well-functioning teams report enhanced job satisfaction and well-being. Nurses who contribute to positive team environments perform their work more efficiently and avoid burnout.

    6. Accountability

    In the medical field, workers must accept responsibility for their actions — especially leaders. These professionals remain accountable for their actions, along with their team’s work. Accountability is critical to identifying shortcomings and creating plans for improvement.

    7. Stress Management

    Working in a fast-paced environment with high stakes means nurses must learn to effectively manage stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can lead to irritability, lack of focus, and feeling overwhelmed.

    The effects of stress can put patients at risk. Nurses must handle their workload and maintain focus while on the job. In doing so, they reduce the likelihood of critical mistakes occurring.

    To effectively manage stress, nurses should set aside personal time to distance themselves from their stressful work environments. Using this personal time to exercise, listen to music, and meditate or practice yoga can help diminish stress and provide a calming effect.

    Organizing tasks and setting realistic daily goals can also help limit work-related pressures. Nurses should turn down additional responsibilities that may exacerbate their stress.

    8. Critical Observation

    Attention to detail can yield massive benefits for nurses, as critical observation might mean they catch an overlooked detail or discover a more efficient course of action.

    By analyzing information and determining an appropriate course of action, nurses can provide unique solutions to problems.

    9. Self-Development

    Nurses who want to grow within their profession should seek continuous improvement through additional training and education opportunities.

    Nurses can pursue advanced degrees or specializations to develop academically and professionally. Developing new abilities allows nurses to provide better care for their patients and advance into leadership roles. Nurses can also take advantage of many free courses and classes available online.

    10. Resilience

    In a profession where decisions can have life or death consequences, workers in the medical community must develop considerable resilience.

    Resilient nurses can cope with setbacks and keep challenging situations from affecting patient care. Nurses must learn to adapt to ever-changing professional environments and continually monitor their own mental state.

    What’s the Difference Between Hard and Soft Skills?

    Hard skills typically pertain to specific areas of study and apply to professional work after graduation. Soft skills are more universal and social in nature, and allow individuals to collaborate with different types of people and provide guidance. Developing soft skills in nursing enhances creativity, resilience, and adaptability while fostering emotional and social intelligence.

    Combining hard and soft skills allows professionals to thrive. With hard skills, nurses are equipped with the medical knowledge to provide quality healthcare to their patients. With soft skills, nurses are better able to navigate their work environment and collaborate with others.

    Hard Skills

    • Measurable and quantifiable
    • Can be taught through formal education or training
    • Evidence of hard skills is tangible through certifications, degrees, or work
    • Specific to a particular job/career
    • Examples include data analysis, technical writing, web development

    Soft Skills

    • Abstract and difficult to measure
    • Emphasis on interpersonal skills
    • Successful demonstration of soft skills is more subjective
    • Universal and developed through personal experience
    • Examples include teamwork, adaptability, leadership, critical thinking, collaboration

    Why Are Soft Skills Important in Nursing?

    Nurses must apply their soft skills to complement the technical aspects of the job. To aid their patients, nurses must recognize cues to better understand their patient’s needs. When treating a patient, their physical health is only part of the equation. By recognizing verbal and nonverbal responses, nurses can identify physical ailments and unseen emotional challenges.

    Soft skills also help nurses work with other medical professionals. The ability to function as a team, communicate effectively, and accept/provide constructive criticism gives teams a better chance to deliver quality care.

    Soft skills also include a nurse’s ability to adapt. In learning to work in stressful conditions and maintain their resilience, nurses improve their own outcomes for higher job satisfaction and professional success.

    Developing Soft Skills for Nursing

    While nurses enter the field with the necessary medical information to deliver care, these professionals commonly develop soft skills for nursing over time. Continued experience and self-reflection, along with the ability to accept constructive feedback, allow nurses to hone these abilities.

    Nurses who combine educational and technical skills with excellent emotional and social abilities are better able to provide exemplary care.

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