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5 Characteristics of a Successful Nurse

As America’s healthcare needs expand rapidly, new nursing professionals must take on leadership responsibilities early in their careers. [1] While academics warn health organizations not to look for leadership among fresh graduates, that is exactly what employers desire as they search for ways to fill the current talent shortage.

A female nurse talking with a patient.

While employers might not expect new nurses to manage a hospital, nurses do assume important responsibilities early in their careers. Employers hope the trainees will fill administrative ranks quickly and be responsible for completing tasks that determine patient health, safety and satisfaction.

In response to this demand, universities encourage enrollment in bachelor’s degree nurse training. Even so, hospital administrators cannot expect to recruit new nurses for organizational leadership posts. However, the following five characteristics can prepare nurse hopefuls for employer demands in an expanding caregiving environment.

Characteristic 1: Communication

“Communication does not always occur naturally, even among a tight-knit group of individuals. Communication must be taught and practiced in order to bring everyone together as one.” – Duke Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski

Effective nurses communicate and listen proficiently. [2] Every day, nurses must continuously:

  • Communicate patient progress
  • Compose worthwhile shift reports
  • Produce, comprehensible written reports
  • Recount circumstances surrounding decisions
  • Relay patient needs

Despite these responsibilities, nurses need adept communication skills the most when interacting with patients. New patients commonly experience significant stress and anxiety, a factor that can cloud comprehension. The ability to explain treatment activity allows nurses to calm patient concerns. However, the ability to focus on and understand each client provides the most long-term value.

For the first time in nursing history, four age generations deliver health services together. Duly, modern nurses should understand subtle nuances regarding peer and consumer groups known to marketers as demographic traits.

Generation Y, also called Millennials, were born between 1981 and 1999, have awareness of world issues, think practically and show concern for others. These consumers prefer to communicate through social media and texting rather than talking and using email. They also prefer advice framed as compliments rather than constructive criticisms.

The previous age class, known as Generation X and born between 1965 and 1980, possess an entrepreneurial spirit, are very independent and somewhat cynical. This group is also technologically proficient but prefers short emails, texts and verbal interactions. Generation X consumers have little brand or organizational loyalty and find a challenge tolerating authority figures. Despite this, they are responsive to change.

Characteristic 2: Critical Thinking

“Even more than what you think, how you think matters,” – Atul Gawande, MD

The ability to compile and analyze information increases in importance as medicine grows more complex. [3] With so many moving parts, blindly following orders is unsafe. Therefore, nurses must use decision-making and problem-solving skills during every patient interaction by applying intellectual standards, such as:

  • Applicability
  • Ethics
  • Meticulousness
  • Precision
  • Reasoning
  • Scope
  • Wisdom

Nurses use critical thinking skills to analyze the many variables involved with making decisions. Planning, prioritizing and problem-solving is one continuous, fluid process. As nurses gain experience, their ability to manage this process grows more proficient.

Characteristic 3: Patience

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama

Patience is the trait that ties all nursing skills together. [4] An agitated patient might not follow their treatment plan, which can worsen their condition.

Patients are extremely vulnerable when visiting care providers, especially during emergencies. Visiting patients might exhibit calm demeanors followed abruptly by extreme agitation. Professional nurses understand this, practice patience, and do their best to reassure clients. By considering the situation from the patient’s point of view, nurses can relate to otherwise unsettling behavior. In addition to managing patients, nurses must complete and maintain substantial documentation, a sometimes tedious task which also requires patience.

Characteristic 4: Adaptability

“The secret to thriving in the future is learning to learn” – Dorie Clark

The ability to solve problems during frontline caregiving is a critical skill for nurses. [5] Nurses learn this skill in two environments: academic and clinical. Clinical environments differ from academic settings, because the experience that nurses gain when practicing improves their work performance, while simultaneously determining patient outcomes. Unlike academic settings, clinical practice environments present many complex variables and allow nurses to transform theoretical concepts into skills that enhance their ability to deliver care.

Characteristic 5: Attentiveness

“Bring your whole self to work; not only your knowledge and expertise, but also your values …” – Mary Brainerd, president and CEO of HealthPartners

In care environments, attentiveness and engagement go along with excellent nursing. [6] Effective nurses remain vigilant in forecasting needs, managing emergencies, and monitoring patients.

Case demand and increased responsibility have made attentiveness a challenge for nurses. In today’s caregiving environment, a smaller nursing pool must tend to a larger population. Under these circumstances, fatigue and sleep deprivation can diminish attentiveness, especially among 24-hour and extended-stay facilities where nurses might find difficulty staying alert or awake during relatively peaceful overnight shifts.

Meeting Challenges in the Field

Caregiving involves emotional, mental, and physical stressors. [7] The decision to choose nursing as a profession means accepting responsibility for consumers during the most vulnerable moments of their lives. In an environment that constantly poses new challenges, nurses require humility to deal with circumstances that can change from day to day.

In contemporary healthcare practices, some nurses provide more than support; they serve as primary care providers. Nurse practitioners (NPs) utilize medical training in autonomously treating patients. In some municipalities, these nursing professionals develop treatment plans, refer clients, and write prescriptions.

Nurses do not start their careers possessing all required traits. These abilities develop over time. In clinical settings, veteran nurses commonly teach these skills through examples. Over time, an environment develops where peers learn from each other continuously, which support care provider organizations’ goal to promote community well-being at facilities across the nation.

Learn More

Adventist University started building its solid foundation for nursing education in 1908 when it began training nurses so healthcare could be provided for more people. Today they offer cutting edge education and experienced faculty dedicated to helping individuals interested in pursuing a bachelor of science in nursing degree.

Recommended Readings:

Leadership Qualities of a Transformational Nurse
The Evolving Role of a Public Health Nurse
Seven Conflict Management Tips for Nurses
The Interspersing of Nursing: A Geographical Look at the Demand for Nurses




Critical Thinking:
Adaptable (willing to learn):