What Makes a Good Nurse? Experts Reveal What it Takes
Nursing is known to be both a highly demanding and highly rewarding career. But what makes a good nurse? Like any other job, a career in nursing requires a specific set of skills. Some of these skills may come more naturally to you, while you will have the opportunity to learn from others in nursing school or on the job.
What makes a truly great nurse, though, is the ability to bring your best qualities into the work environment and use them alongside the skills you have gained in your education.
We talked to the experts — registered nurses (RNs) and other healthcare professionals who frequently work with them — to find out the must-have skills and personality traits for a successful career in nursing. Here are eight skills and qualities to consider when you think about a potential career as a nurse.
8 signs of a great nurse
1. Good nurses are competent
Wendie Howland, who works as both a nurse and a consultant, says competence is key in her career, especially when it comes to working on the fly. While personality may play a large role in a nurse’s work, Howland maintains that, “When the chips are down, it takes second place to competence.”
Competence as a nurse includes a solid mastery of basic algebra for calculating doses, IV rates and needs for patients of different sizes; an avid understanding of sciences like anatomy, biology and chemistry; and literacy for charting and communicating well with a broad patient base.
2. Good nurses are safe
Dr. Michael Sinnott works with nurses on a daily basis in a hospital emergency room. He suggests that, in addition to maintaining patient safety, nurses need to know how to protect their own safety in a hazardous work environment like a hospital. “For instance, perioperative nurses must know how to protect themselves from scalpel injuries, as these cuts can result in infections, blood-borne diseases and psychological distress. Other serious injuries could require microsurgery to repair digital arteries, nerves and tendons,” he says.
3. Good nurses communicate well
Jared Heathman, a family psychiatrist, says efficient communication is key for supporting other healthcare professionals and also for ensuring quality care for patients. “Nurses often receive important clinical information through their time with patients, and their ability to filter and condense relevant information can save physicians time while providing history that improves patient care,” he explains.
4. Good nurses are team-oriented
Susan Mehaffey is an RN who has worked in various healthcare settings. In her decades of working as a nurse, she has noticed that the ability to collaborate with colleagues is of utmost importance — especially when it comes to scheduling. “There are lots of vacant openings often, so many times nurses are asked to do overtime or switch their shifts with another nurse for holidays,” she elaborates.
Mehaffey has also observed that in a team environment like a clinic or hospital, considering others is key. “If a nurse has senior status and has the holidays off, that is great,” she explains. “But what if the new nurse has a large family coming in for the holiday and would like some time off, but the senior nurse is single and [has] no family? It is common for the one with no family to take the holiday shifts and allow the one with children to have time off.”
5. Good nurses are lifelong learners
Rheumatology care coordinator Amelia Roberts says a positive perspective on learning is an important quality for any good nurse. Though much of your learning as an RN will take place on the job, don’t limit your continued education opportunities to inside the workplace.
“Learning is not limited to when you are on the clock,” Roberts urges. “The majority of what I have learned has come from exposure to nursing journals and podcasts outside of work.”
6. Good nurses are compassionate
Because nurses work so closely with patients and their families as they deal with difficult health issues, kindness and compassion are vital for a nurse to succeed in his or her career. Consider a time you or a family member has endured a hospital stay, and you’ll quickly realize the important role a compassionate nurse can play. Nancy Brook, a nurse practitioner and career mentor, suggests that compassion is a core foundation for any nurse’s career.
7. Good nurses are assertive
Natasha Coleman is a health educator who works closely alongside nurses. She says that, while kindness and compassion are certainly important for good nurses, it can also help if nurses are a bit bossy. If they know how to give clear, firm directions to those they work with, their patients will be more likely to follow their course of care.
8. Good nurses have positive attitudes
Nurses are typically the healthcare professionals that patients spend the most time with. For this reason, Lorna Johnson, nurse and founder of the Advanced Family Care Medical Group, maintains that attitude is everything when it comes to nursing.
“The nursing profession is a very rewarding one, though often very challenging — primarily because nurses are on the frontline of care and can set the tone and mood for healing with their optimism, compassion, and critical thinking skills,” she iterates.
Do you have the makings of a great nurse?
Now that you’ve reviewed the personality traits and skills nursing experts have identified as essential to a successful career as an RN, you may be even more convinced that this is the right career path for you. But it’s understandable if you’re looking for a bit more information before you take the leap and start scouting nursing programs.
To learn all about the perks of working as a nurse, check out our article: The 3-Day Workweek & 6 More Marvelous Benefits of Being a Nurse.