11 Key Skills Needed to Become a Nurse

Nurse smiling at patient
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Choosing to become a nurse is a big commitment. It can be emotionally draining, the hours are long and you can be exposed to some incredibly stressful situations. But it is also hugely rewarding, with the ability to take your qualifications anywhere in the world and the opportunity to progress within a number of potential specialisms.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in this life-changing and highly sought after profession, here are just a few of the essential skills that you’ll need to make the grade.

1. Communication Skills

As we’ve suggested many times before, the ability to communicate effectively is presumably the singular most important skill in any workplace, but even more so in a hospital. Whether you are working on a general ward, a frantic trauma team or as a midwife in a birthing room, being able to convey and receive information calmly and quickly, whether written or verbal, can literally be a matter of life and death.

Correctly documenting patient and treatment information is equally important, as these notes can be used as legal evidence in court if needed. And if you don’t give a thorough handover to the next shift, mistakes can be made and patient safety can be compromised.

2. Decision Making Skills

Nursing has undergone a massive transition in the last 30 years, and as the levels of professionalism and training have increased, so too have the levels of responsibility. That means that in some instances, registered nurses (RNs) may be expected to make certain calls based on their own opinion and analysis.

On these occasions, it’s critical to exercise solid decision making skills as the consequences could potentially have serious affects. The situation might also be time sensitive, or it could be within a high-pressure environment.

3. Attention to Detail

It’s vital to be aware of the finer details when working closely with drug doses and administrations. It can be easy to make a mistake, especially when you are 10 hours into a hectic shift. As an RN you are legally required to check serial numbers, batch numbers and expiry dates and you need to be able to spot when something is amiss.

Possessing attention to detail can also help you identify certain behavioural patterns or symptoms in patients that could potentially be a red flag. For example, if you overlook something important during an initial consultation, you could be scrutinised and even face legal action for professional negligence.

4. Confidence

In a clinical setting, confidence is not about thinking that you know everything, but about having faith in your abilities and training.

Giving the impression of assuredness is important too, especially in patient interactions. If you appear nervous when you’re about to perform a basic procedure, the patient will be left feeling apprehensive. However, if you portray yourself as calm and confident (even if underneath the surface you’re not), then this will immediately put them at ease and make them more compliant.

5. Adaptability and Flexibility

In a practical sense, flexibility as a nurse can mean working in different wards or hospitals, or being called in last minute to cover a shift. But it also highlights the need to get to grips with your surroundings as quickly as possible.

In addition, nurses need to be robust and able to handle a lot, so having the ability to adapt accordingly to any given situation is highly useful. Whether it’s comforting a scared child or elderly person, dealing with violent and threatening behaviour from an unstable patient, or helping a new mother through childbirth, you’ll be expected to react to the situation quickly.

6. Endurance

As previously mentioned, nurses work long hours with many unable to take the breaks that they need. You could be on your feet, non-stop, in a busy ward for 12 hours at a time, meaning that you need to be physically fit for the rigours of the role.

You must also be mentally strong. As a healthcare professional, you will inevitably be exposed to things that will upset you but you need to remain professional and able to function in your role. This can be difficult, especially with the varied nature of what you could witness on any given shift. While experience and colleague support can offset this, you should still be fully aware of the exhausting nature of the job – both in terms of body and mind.

7. Organisational Skills

It’s highly likely that you will be managing multiple patients at any one time, as well as performing other duties that may be required of you such as medication checks, audits and professional development tasks. Therefore, it’s vital for you to be able to stay on top of everything.

Possessing organisational skills is one of the biggest requisites for a successful career in the field, and managing your workload properly and effectively will reduce the likelihood of becoming overwhelmed and stressed.

8. Teamwork Skills

No employability checklist would be complete without mentioning the need to work well with others and nursing is no different.

Aside from working with other nurses, you will also need to liaise with a variety of other medical professionals, such as doctors, paramedics and healthcare assistants. In a more acute setting, this could be within a trauma team, where working quickly and effectively and understanding yours and everybody else’s role is absolutely key to a patient’s survival.

9. Diplomatic Skills

Diplomacy is a very convenient skill for a nurse, especially when dealing with particularly difficult patients (or even colleagues). Knowing how to read and manage people can make it easier to get what you need, especially when you’re short on time and/or resources.

Being diplomatic also means being patient too, which is an essential component of a nurse’s armoury. There will be times when you feel like pulling your hair out or snapping at that old lady who won’t let you cannulate her, but losing your cool will not get results. It’s about having the ability to remain charming and friendly and doing what needs to be done – even if you need to go and scream in the store cupboard for a couple of minutes afterwards.

10. Leadership Skills

Leadership might not be the most obvious entry on this list, but it plays a big part in a nurse’s career nonetheless. You will frequently be required to take charge of situations, utilising your knowledge and experience accordingly. This might involve guiding less experienced colleagues through the normal steps of a procedure or taking the lead when there is not a doctor available.

As you rise up the ranks, it could also involve managing a department or a ward. Many nurses progress on to non-clinical roles and build up impressive leadership and management portfolios in the process.

11. Multitasking Skills

Finally, nurses are defined by the fact that they constantly have their hands full.

You will be required to manage multiple patients at the same time, ensuring all the relevant paperwork and any drug administrations are watertight, as well as performing various clinical procedures as necessary. And unless you are able to multitask effectively, it’s likely that you will trip yourself up at some point, making your job ten times harder.

As you can see, nursing is not for everyone; a multitude of highly sought-after skills are needed just to survive day-to-day. The good news, though, is that nobody expects you to be the finished article on straight away. Nursing is very much an ongoing education, with even the most experienced nurses learning new things each day. If you are caring, compassionate and willing to work hard, though, then that should be enough to start.


What skills do you think a nurse needs? Let us know in the comments below!