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Skills Needed For A Career In Nursing

Many people have aspirations of a career in nursing, but not everyone has what it takes, particularly when it comes to leadership positions. Nursing is one of the most physically and mentally demanding roles that there is, plus you will be dealing with sickness, injury, and even death on a daily basis, so it is certainly not something that everyone can manage. Nursing can be one of the most rewarding lines of work that there is and provide a great lifestyle for those that take to it, but you need to have the right skills and attributes if you are to have success in this area. Read on to find out what the key skills and attributes that are needed in nursing are and how they could be developed.

Communication Skills

First and foremost, you need to have excellent communication skills if you are to succeed as a nurse. Every day you will be using your speaking, listening, and written communication skills and communicating with other nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals as well as patients and their loved ones. Being able to communicate effectively can ensure that people receive the best level of care and allows you to build trust with patients – something that is vital for providing a high level of care and support. You should also be a good reader of people and able to read body language as it is often what people are not saying that is important.


A good nurse is also one that is compassionate and clearly cares for their patients and their loved ones. Being in a hospital can be scary and traumatic, but when there is a compassionate nurse providing both care and support, it can go a long way to improving the situation. This means that you need to be warm, sympathetic, and friendly to patients and their loved ones, but it is also essential that you do not get too attached to them. Getting too attached to patients can impact your performance and even affect your personal life, so you need to find the right balance of being caring and compassionate without overstepping the mark.

Work Ethic

Nursing is a lot of hard and stressful work, and you need to be able to motivate yourself and be able to give your all each and every day. This means that nurses need to have a stronger work ethic than most, especially those that have aspirations of climbing the ladder, as this will require additional study such as a DNP (more on this to come) while you continue to work. While some people seem to naturally have a higher work ethic than others, this is something that you can develop, and this will be important if you want to be a top nurse.

Ability To Work Under Pressure

Nursing is nothing like your typical 9-5 role, and you will be working in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment from the first minute of your shift to the last. This means that you need to be able to work and stay calm in a high-pressure environment – you are likely to be shouted and screamed at often, but you need to not let this knock you back and instead get what needs to be done completed and remember that it is a matter of life and death in this line of work. Obviously, working in a high-pressure environment dealing with difficult issues each day can take its toll, so you also need to know how to look after yourself (more on this to come) and not be afraid of reaching out for support if you need it.

Critical Thinking

Nurses should also possess critical thinking skills so that they can find the best possible solutions. It is not always obvious what the best path forwards is, and you need to be able to think on your feet, so it might be worthwhile working to develop critical thinking skills if this is an area that you struggle with and you should find that this greatly improves your decision making, boosts your confidence and will help you to stand out from the crowd.

Team Player

You need to be a team player if you are to succeed and climb the ladder with a career in nursing. Ultimately, the patient is the most important person, and you need to be willing to help out in any way that you can as a nurse, no matter what role in their care this is. There is no room for ego in nursing, and nurses often have a strong bond, so you certainly do not want to step on any toes and alienate yourself, particularly when nurses can be such a good source of support for times that you are struggling. Being a team player will help you to stand out for the right reasons, help you to develop positive relationships, and ensure that patients are getting the best possible level of care.

Leadership Skills

Being a team player is certainly important, but if you want to progress to a leadership role, you also need to be able to demonstrate leadership skills. This is tricky, but it is possible by taking control of situations when the time is right, showing initiative, and supporting your fellow nurses. You should also look beyond your role and try to see the big picture when it comes to the healthcare system – you can do this with qualifications like a DNP, attending industry events, and generally having a passion for nursing and healthcare.

Study Skills

There is always more studying that you can do as a nurse, especially if you want to reach a leadership position. A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is one of the best qualifications to earn as a DNP will teach you skills to excel in today’s complex health care environment, including health care policy, quality improvement, and evidence-based problem-solving. Those with a DNP have a higher earning potential than those with a master’s, plus a DNP is deemed to the highest credential for clinical nursing practice. You can also take an online DNP program, which can provide a more flexible and convenient way to obtain your DNP.

Time Management

You need many skills and attributes as a nurse if you are to succeed, but these will be of no use if you do not have good time management skills. There are not enough hours in the day as a nurse as you will have to juggle multiple patients, but you also need good time management skills for your own free time as you really need to make the most out of this. It can take a while to develop, but with experience, nurses often become masters of time management so that they can stay on top of everything at work, study for a DNP, and make the most out of their free time, including getting enough rest.


Speaking of rest, self-care is another vital skill that a nurse needs to have if they are to be a good nurse and enjoy their work. It is hard when you are working long hours, on your feet all day, and working in a high-pressure environment, but if you do not know how to look after yourself, it will negatively impact your performance, it could lead to time off work and also take the enjoyment out of your work and personal life. A few self-care tips for nurses that should help include:

  • Schedule sleep for when you will be tired
  • Use meal prep for healthy meals throughout the week
  • Try to limit unhealthy food and drink
  • Find a form of exercise you enjoy
  • Try yoga and/or meditation
  • Spend time with loved ones
  • Lean on your support network
  • Reach out for help if you need it


Nurses need to have confidence otherwise, they will be second-guessing themselves, always waiting for approval, and too focused on themselves to provide the best level of care. A confident nurse is one that will stand out, rise through the ranks and be able to make timely, effective decisions, so this needs to be an area that you work on if you currently do not have self-confidence. When you are just getting started with your career, it is understandable that you might be nervous and not have bags of self-confidence, but you do need to develop this quickly otherwise, it can be hard to progress.


Leading on from this, nurses also need to have laser focus from the very start of their shift to the end. Nursing is all about detail when it comes to patient care, so you need to be able to focus on the details even in high-pressure situations, and without a high level of focus, you will make mistakes, feel the pressure and not be able to perform to a high standard.


No two days are ever the same when you are a nurse, and this is a perk of the job for many. While there are reasons why this is seen as a benefit, it can also be a challenge because it means that you do not know what your day will look like, and you will have to be dealing with new situations constantly. This is why a good nurse is also one that is adaptable and able to perform in different situations.

Ability To Leave Work Behind

One of the hardest aspects of nursing is being able to leave everything behind once your shift ends and you leave the hospital. When you are dealing with sickness, trauma, death, and grief on a daily basis, it can be hard to put this to the back of your mind and go about living your personal life. You need to be able to do this, though, otherwise, it can impact your personal life and, in turn, your work. Your free time and personal life need to be kept completely separate, and you need to really be able to make the most out of this time, which means that you need to find a way to leave work behind at the end of a shift. This is often a skill that is developed over time, but many people find that creating a clear distinction such as having a shower or getting changed straight away and having plans for your time off can be helpful.

Commitment ToSelf Improvement

One thing that always helps a nurse to stand out for the right reasons is a commitment to self-improvement. Nurses who are skilled but do not work on themselves rarely progress as you always need to be looking to develop and improve as nurses, especially if you want to climb the ladder. You should reflect on yourself often and try to identify and work on any weaknesses as well as ask for feedback from those around you. When you put in the effort to improve your abilities as a nurse, it will show your commitment to the profession and your desire to improve the level of care that you can provide to patients.

These are the main skills and attributes that you will need if you want to succeed in nursing and reach leadership levels. Nursing is a great profession with many perks, but it is also unique with many different challenges, which means that it is not for everyone. You need to possess a wide range of skills and attributes, but the good news is that many of these can be developed, and often you will naturally develop these over time in your career. Obviously, if you want to progress, then qualifications like a DNP will be useful, but there are also lots of smaller steps that will need to be taken, and you will also need to make sure that you know how to look after yourself and make the most out of your free time in order to perform to a high standard and maintain a positive outlook.