10 essential skills that every nurse needs

Nursing is a complex profession with many must-have skills competing for a top 10 place. Some of these nursing skills can vary across the four specialisms – adult, paediatric, learning disabilities, and mental health nursing – and across roles in different healthcare settings.

Here, and in no particular order, are the top 10 nursing skills which, as you’d expect, reflect the breadth and depth of various nursing roles.

Essential nursing skills checklist:

  1. Strong interpersonal communication
  2. Observant
  3. Problem-solving
  4. Decisiveness
  5. Organisation and prioritisation
  6. Resilience
  7. Leadership skills
  8. Teamwork
  9. Self-awareness
  10. Flexibility

1. Strong interpersonal communication

Having strong interpersonal communication skills is at the top of the list for compassionate, high-quality nursing care. Being able to interact positively with both patients and colleagues can help to build trust and relationships, and lead to improved patient satisfaction and outcomes.

A nurse with good interpersonal communication skills will be:

  • An active listener
  • A clear communicator
  • Patient
  • Have cultural and disability awareness
  • Be able to share information accurately
  • Be able to explain (complex) medical information in everyday language

For nurses who carry out agency work, strong communication skills are crucial. As you take on temporary placements, you will regularly meet new people and work with different teams, who may have different ways of doing things. So, being able to communicate effectively will enable you to work with clarity and consistently deliver great care in the new environments you are working within.

2. Observant

Being observant is another must-have in everyone’s list of top 10 nursing skills. It’s important to be able to recognise, report and act on changes in a patient’s condition so that you can make the right decisions and provide the best solutions. It’s essential to both patient safety and quality care in any environment.

If you are an agency nurse, strong observation skills and great attention to detail will also help you to quickly recognise different processes and ways of working within your placements. In turn, it enables you to hit the ground running and perform your duties effectively right away.

3. Problem-solving

It goes without saying that being a great problem solver is an essential nursing skill. Once you have identified a problem or issue, you need to be able to think critically in order to come up with the right solutions – often in high-pressure situations – for those that you care for.

When working as an agency nurse, great problem-solving skills can also help you to navigate the new environments you are placed within, along with helping you to provide the best care and support to patients. It’s a skill that can help you to figure out different approaches quickly so that you can become a valuable part of the team you are in.

4. Decisiveness

Decisiveness goes together with problem-solving and is something you’ll use multiple times during any working day to give your patients the best possible care.

The decisions you make will be impacted by the professional education, knowledge, and evidence you’ve gathered when assessing patients. Of course, you’ll also be influenced by your intuition and discussions with your team, with the decisions you make being both free of bias and mindful of your patient’s best interests.

5. Organisation and prioritisation

You won’t need to have spent long in the nursing profession to know that organisation and prioritisation will always be near the top of your nursing skills list.

Task prioritisation is essential in delivering safe and effective care. It allows you to understand what is most important, time-sensitive and critical so that you know what to do right away and what should come next. As things can change quickly in care settings, strong organisational skills can also help you to quickly adapt, reprioritise and manage these changes effectively.

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6. Resilience

Even the best-organised nurses will be faced with stressful situations at times. So, it’s important to have skills and techniques in place to help you when these occur. Common techniques include:

  • Self-care – it is important to look after yourself by sleeping well, eating healthily and exercising
  • Mindfulness – breathing exercises and meditation can help to build emotional resilience
  • Positive relationships – talking to others, seeking help and sharing your feelings are valuable
  • Awareness and acceptance – remember you can’t do it all and you can just do your best

Read our blog on how to prioritise your wellbeing for practical tips on how to take care of your mental health.

7. Leadership skills

You don’t need to be in a leadership role to be a great leader. Being able to inspire, influence, and motivate others are essential nursing qualities. Examples of great leadership include:

  • Stepping forward and helping a colleague without being prompted
  • Offering up ideas to improve patient care
  • Recognising the achievements of others and praising their contributions
  • Staying positive when things get tough and encouraging others through your example
  • Respecting others and developing good relationships with your patients and colleagues
  • Seeing opportunities to get things done
  • Making good decisions
  • Role modelling the 6 Cs of Care

8. Teamwork

Teamwork is a fact of life in many nursing roles, where collaboration with other healthcare professionals is needed in order to coordinate and deliver care to patients. Strong teamwork leads to:

  • Better patient care and improved outcomes
  • Strong professional relationships
  • Reduced risk to patient safety
  • Increased efficiencies

Teamwork is an incredibly important skill to have as an agency nurse. As you will often be working in new settings and working with new teams, it’s important to be able to do so with ease so that patients always receive the best possible care. Bearing all this in mind, teamwork in nursing has got to figure in the top 10 nurse skills.

9. Self-awareness

Your self-awareness will strongly influence the relationships you develop with your patients. It can help you to:

  • Build stronger interpersonal relationships with patients
  • Better understand the thoughts and emotions of patients
  • Provide greater emotional care alongside physical care

Being self-aware also means that you’re more likely to be able to move past obstacles and are prepared for everything life as a nurse has in store.

10. Flexibility

In nursing, it’s important to be able to adapt and respond to changes that come your way. This skill is particularly crucial when working as an agency nurse. In these roles, you will typically work in different settings with different people, often at short notice. It’s valuable to be able to embrace this challenge as well as the variety that agency work can bring.

Discover nursing opportunities with the Guild

We’re always looking to speak with exceptional nurses like yourself across Scotland, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.

With the Guild, you will be rewarded for your skills. With high rates of pay, flexible shift options and the opportunity to work in a variety of settings, find out the opportunities that we currently have available across many different nursing specialisms.

Register with the Nursing Guild

We’re looking for exceptional nursing and midwifery professionals like you to join our team. Register with the Nursing Guild to access high rates of pay, paid mileage and support with revalidation.

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