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What Qualities Make a Successful Nurse? 6 Signs You’re Cut Out for the Job

Nov 16, 2016 | Harrison College

What Qualities Make a Successful Nurse? 6 Signs You’re Cut Out for the Job

There are certain jobs that just about anyone could do at a satisfactory level — with the proper education and training. Nursing is not one of those jobs. It takes a little something extra to become a nurse — something that can’t be taught in a classroom.

Any health care professional who has worked alongside nurses will tell you: It takes a special kind of person to be a great nurse. Do you think you’re cut out for it?

We connected with a panel of seasoned health care experts who helped us compile a list of essential qualities of a successful nurse. Use this as your checklist as you consider whether a nursing career is right for you.

If you can identify with these six crucial qualities, you may be better equipped than you thought for a career in nursing.

6 natural qualities of a great nurse

1. Empathy

“At the heart of every good nurse — in fact, within the heart of every good nurse — is a huge capacity for compassion,” says Dr. Daniel L. Kopp, MD, a retired family physician of more than 36 years.

Dr. Kopp explains that almost anyone can experience sympathy for others, but nurses predominantly experience empathy. “To be able to assess a patient in a difficult situation with empathy and appreciation for their backstory is both a science and an art,” he adds. “People who generally migrate to health care are intelligent, inquisitive, dedicated and committed to helping their fellow human beings.”

If you find yourself regularly experiencing empathy — the ability to both understand and share the feelings of another — this is a quality that would serve you well as a nurse.

2. Adaptability

“A good nurse must be able to think on their feet,” offers Christopher Caulfield, NP-C, MSN. “Every situation you encounter is going to be new and different, so your treatments will have to be unique for each of your patients.”

From juggling multiple patients at once to making crucial medical decisions at a moment’s notice, the best nurses are able to adapt to the situation at hand and remain cool under pressure. This is why doctors and patients alike place so much trust in the hands of nurses.

3. Therapeutic communication

“Nurses are much better at developing and sustaining truly therapeutic relationships with patients than professionals from any other health care discipline,” Dr. Kopp says. “Through the dynamics of attuning, wondering, following and holding their patients, they facilitate healing.”

The empathetic abilities of nurses are in full force when it comes to building these therapeutic relationships with patients. And these skills are useful for more than simply making the patient feel comfortable. Therapeutic communication helps encourage patients to make good choices for themselves, according to Caulfield.

“For some nurses, it comes naturally. However for most nurses, it takes some time and effort to be proficient,” he adds.

4. Humility

Rebecca Lee is a nurse manager at one of New York City’s busiest hospitals. As a manager, she specializes in the ability to identify the qualities of a great nurse. When nursing candidates are interviewing for her unit, humility is one of the key attributes she looks for.

“When you’re constantly busy, it is easy to make a mistake. If you make a mistake, it’s important to own up to it and learn from it,” she explains. She adds that it is difficult to teach a person who pretends to know it all and acts like they are better than the rest of the pack.

A generous amount of humility also fares well in the daily tasks nurses will encounter, such as cleaning out infections, working with catheters and urine bags, cleaning up blood and the dozens of other vital — but often unpleasant — tasks that help keep patients as healthy as possible.

5. Efficiency

“Efficiency leads to better care,” Lee says. She goes on to explain that nurses have several responsibilities throughout the day that all need to get done quickly. A successful nurse needs to know how to prioritize the most important tasks.

In fact, as U.S. hospitals embark upon a quest for higher-quality care, better patient safety and unmatchable efficiency, many are turning to nurses, as they focus daily on these exact tenets. Studies have even revealed how nurses and their work environment have significant impacts on patient experiences of the quality of care received. 

6. Teamwork

What can impact efficiency more than just about anything else? Effective teamwork. Odds are, you won’t be the only nurse who cares for an individual patient. Whether that patient is still in hospital care when shift-change approaches or they’re transferred to a different department due to medical necessity, communication among other nurses and physicians is crucial to quality patient care. Changes in status — whether deterioration or improvement — must be shared between team members.

“You cannot take care of patients by yourself,” Lee says, explaining that whether you’re working among fellow nurses, doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, unit clerks, radiologists or pharmacists, it takes a team of people to care for one patient. “Some days you will need your coworkers’ help, and they will need yours,” she says. “Help each other!

Are you naturally inclined for nursing?

After reviewing the qualities included in this list, do you see a reflection of yourself? If you resonate with a few of these important qualities of a nurse, you may be destined for the field. If you’re ready to leverage your natural talents toward an in-demand, fulfilling career, it’s time to seriously consider the field of nursing.

Check out our nursing information page to learn more about the steps you’ll need to take to become a registered nurse!

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