15 Essential Skills for Nurses

Each blog post is dated and contains accurate information as of that date. Certain information may have changed since the blog post publication date. If you would like to confirm the current accuracy of blog information, please visit our ABSN overview page or contact admissions at (844) 347-2503.

The essential skills for nurses range from soft skills, such as compassion, to hard skills, such as medication management. Some of these skills can be learned during nursing school, but many are gained through years of nursing experience. Honing these skills requires a lifelong dedication to learning and improvement.

nurse with patient in hospital bed

Nurses are prepared to handle various medical emergencies, conditions, and patients. Having undergone a rigorous education, nurses possess a valuable skill set that helps them navigate patient care. The essential skills for nurses include soft and hard skills you acquire during your nursing education and further develop on the job.

The University of Mount Saint Vincent’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program teaches you vital nursing skills to build a fulfilling nursing career. Through coursework, simulation labs, skills labs, and clinical rotations, you can earn your Bachelor of Science (BS) in Nursing in as few as 16 months.

Upon graduation, you can confidently take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and start your nursing journey.

Below is an exploration of 15 essential skills for nurses you will need to cultivate during your nursing education and throughout your career.

nurses in meeting

Acquiring nursing skills begins in nursing school. Read more to learn what an ABSN is and how to choose the right nursing program for you.

Essential Soft Skills for Nurses

Soft skills for nurses refer to skills not specific to nursing practice. Soft skills can be helpful beyond nursing and can be acquired and developed outside your career. Below are eight soft skills that will help improve your ability to provide patient care and succeed in your career.

1. Attention to Detail

Nurses must possess an acute attention to detail. They must pay close attention to patient care plans to ensure they administer the correct medication and dosage at the right time and provide appropriate treatments. Nurses must also closely monitor a patient’s condition and recognize any changes. Catching even the slightest change can significantly impact patient outcomes.

2. Effective Communication

Communication is integral to a functioning healthcare facility. There is a constant flow of communication between nurses and other healthcare staff during shift changes and task delegation to ensure patients receive appropriate and immediate care. Nurses must also communicate with patients to identify their medical history, allergies, and symptoms and educate them on treatments and procedures.

Nursing students practicing on a manikin

3. Compassion

Compassionate nurses build trust with their patients, allowing them to feel seen and heard. Illness can be overwhelming for patients and their families. They often experience a great deal of stress and uncertainty, but when they feel their nurses are understanding and compassionate, they will be more open to treatment plans.

Nurses spend more time with patients than physicians. According to a 2018 study, 32.97% of nurses’ day shifts are spent in patient rooms, while physicians spend 14.73%. Because patients see nurses more often than their physicians, small acts of compassion from the nursing staff can go a long way.

4. Creative Problem-Solving

Nurses are faced with many complex scenarios, calling for careful decision-making. As a nurse, you must flex your critical thinking ability to uncover creative solutions. Nurses need to pay close attention to their patients during onboarding and treatment to identify relevant symptoms and recognize new ones.

Nurses then rely on their experience and clinical judgment to address and solve problems. Solutions aren’t always simple or easy to come by. Nurses must be quick on their feet and creative.

5. Adaptability

Nurses must be able to pivot while working. Plans often change, and they change quickly. Shift changes, patient care plan adjustments, patient conditions, and assigned duties can all change rapidly. Nurses must adapt on short notice and shift their focus to ensure processes continue functioning.

Nursing students practicing on a manikin

6. Interpersonal Skills

Teamwork is vital to nursing, so nurses must rely on their interpersonal skills throughout their careers. Interpersonal skills refer to skills you use when interacting with others, such as flexibility, patience, and cooperation. Strengthening your social skills helps you form productive connections with healthcare staff to deliver patient care together.

Interpersonal skills also help nurses interact with patients and their families. Strong social skills help patients feel comfortable and trust their nurses.

7. Professionalism and Strong Ethics

Nurses must remain professional and abide by a strong code of ethics. As a nurse, you must be disciplined and committed to providing quality and dignified patient care. This includes how you interact with your patients, their families, and your coworkers.

8. Stress Management

Nursing students having a conversation in a clinical setting

While nursing can be incredibly rewarding, it is also a fast-paced and demanding career. Nurses must develop stress management skills to decrease burnout and help them stay on top of their responsibilities. Prioritizing personal time outside of work lets you decompress and feel refreshed when it’s time to return.

Remember that poor stress management can result in mistakes at work. It’s best to check in with yourself and seek help when needed. Delegating tasks and asking for assistance from other nurses makes the workload more manageable and helps you in the long run.

Essential Hard Skills for Nurses

Hard skills refer to the type of skills specific to nursing. These are the skills you learn directly from course instruction in nursing school. Below are seven hard nursing skills foundational to patient care.

9. Patient Safety

Patient safety is among the basic nursing skills needed to work in healthcare. Nurses must take special care to reduce and prevent risks to their patients. Over 50% of patient harm is preventable, half of which is due to medication errors.

Nurses and healthcare facilities must prioritize patient safety and ensure nurses have access to resources to help prevent patient falls and other common errors.

10. Patient Transfers

Patients need transferring assistance in many scenarios. Patients with limited mobility need nurses to help them out of bed, support them as they sit or stand, and transport them from room to room in a wheelchair. Nurses must be adequately trained to ensure they do not cause harm to patients as they assist with transferring and preventing falls and other injuries.

11. Medication Management

While nurses cannot prescribe medication to their patients, they are responsible for administering it. Nurses must have a solid understanding of medications and healthcare facility procedures to record each dosage appropriately and reduce administration errors.

CMSV student in purple gloves

Nurses must also pay close attention to their patients to notice signs of improvement or adverse effects from medications. Any changes should be relayed to the patient’s physician so they can adjust the patient’s treatment plan as needed.

12. Emergency Care

Nursing skills in emergency care are for more than just ER nurses. As of 2022, most nurses work in hospitals and encounter patients experiencing medical emergencies. Emergencies can occur anywhere. Even nurses outside hospitals must be prepared to provide emergency care on short notice.

13. Technology Skills

Comfortability with technology is one of the most essential skills needed to be a nurse. Providing patient care involves a variety of tech, from smart IV pumps to electronic health records. Nurses must be comfortable with computers and ready to learn new skills to keep up with technological innovations and the evolving medical field.

14. Patient Education

Patient education skills take time to learn. Nurses must explain diagnoses and treatments to patients so they are informed and prepared. Because patients spend more time with their nurses than physicians, nurses are their primary point of contact.

A nurse who can communicate complex medical concepts to individuals without medical training empowers patients to make informed healthcare decisions.

15. CPR and BLS

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic life support (BLS) are foundational to nursing. All nurses must be CPR and BLS-certified and prepared to perform CPR as needed. These skills can save lives and are some of the most important hard skills for nurses.

Nursing students have the chance to develop basic nursing skills during clinical rotations. Read more to learn what to expect in nursing clinicals.

nursing student holding lab equipment

Do You Have the Skills for a Career in Nursing?

Nursing requires you to hone many skills throughout your career, from soft skills, such as interpersonal communication, to hard skills, such as CPR. As a nurse, you must continuously learn new skills and further develop others. Because many of the skills listed here take time and experience to learn, starting on the right foot is essential.

At Mount Saint Vincent, students receive a thorough education that allows them to develop essential nursing skills that will build their confidence for the licensing exam and their future careers. If you have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, you may qualify for Mount Saint Vincent’s ABSN.

Contact an admission counselor today so you can take the first steps toward earning your BS in Nursing.