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Top 5 Soft Skills in Nursing and How to Develop Them

Certain soft skills in nursing raise the level of patient care. As a nursing student, developing skills such as organization, communication and compassion can help you in your education as well as your career as a nurse. It’s important to understand what they are and how to develop them. 

Two ABSN students working on a manikin with text nursing soft skills

Do you have what it takes to be a nurse? If you’ve never worked in a healthcare setting before, you likely still need to learn the medical knowledge and practical skills to be a nurse.

But what about the soft skills in nursing, the intangibles that make great nurses? Organization, communication, critical thinking — odds are you probably have at least some of these attributes.

While some soft skills of a nurse come more inherently than others, we can help you acquire and fine-tune the others to complement the top-notch holistic healthcare knowledge and technical education you’ll receive at Marian University’s 16-month Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program.

The best part of nursing for those who choose to enter the profession is the relationship development and the trust between nurse and patient. By mastering these soft skills, you set yourself up to strengthen your patient interaction skills and increase patient trust. Read on to learn about five soft skills in nursing and how you can enhance them.

1. Compassion

The ability to care for someone else and see life from their point of view is key to providing nursing care. As a university with Franciscan values, one of our core tenants is caring for the whole person — mind, body, and spirit, says Tameria Cox, Director of Nursing Academic Services for Marian University’s ABSN program in Indianapolis.

“If we heal the medical ailments, but do not acknowledge the spiritual aspects of a being, they could still face great hardship,” she says.

While you are in nursing school, focus on having compassion for your patients. This will help you learn to be a patient-first nurse who earns their trust. Get to know your patients, and consider life from their hospital bed. Compassion is in many ways the defining factor of what makes an exceptional nurse, so learn to embody compassion every day in your work.

5 Ways to Develop Compassion in Nursing:

  • Spend your spare time during clinicals talking with your patients in the hospital. By connecting to their stories, you will remember that there is a real person behind each patient.
  • Talk with your patients’ families.
  • Read a book about compassion in healthcare, such as The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story by Christie Watson.
  • Think about tough times in your life, and use that to connect with what your patients are going through.
  • Volunteer time at a local charity for people in need. This will help you learn to walk in others’ shoes.

2. Communication Skills

Do people trust you enough to open up with you? Are you a good listener? You’ll use communication skills daily as a nurse to help treat patients and work with physicians and administrators.

If communication doesn’t come as naturally to you, don’t worry. In our ABSN program, we will help you develop your skills through simulation labs and clinical rotations.  

As Nick Wright, an ABSN graduate notes, clinical rotations can often teach you a great deal about these soft skills like communication. “The most surprising clinical to me was pediatrics,” he says. “I was nervous about that — about working with kids — but it was such a wonderful experience. I learned a ton that had to do a lot more with dealing with families and communicating.”

Patient communication improves with practice, so as you practice, you will be able to connect with patients and communicate with the care team more effectively.

5 Ways to Improve Nursing Communication Skills:

  • When you talk to a patient, be intentional about not interrupting. Wait until the patient stops talking before you respond.
  • Ask open-ended questions to hear the story in the patient’s words.
  • Always sit down whenever possible with patients. This will help them feel like you care about them and are spending more time with them.
  • Use nonverbal communication to show a patient that you care. Examples include nodding and keeping eye contact.
  • Try to focus on the patient even when you are charting in the computer. Look at the patient whenever possible. The computer can easily get in the way of good communication if the patient interprets that you aren’t listening.

3. Self-Motivation

Some people wake up in the morning with a fuel to attack each day with vigor. Others can barely get up. The main difference here is that the first person has motivation and passion driving the action. In the same way, if you find a career and purpose that brings you joy and inspires you, you’re much more likely to jump into each day with passion.

With nursing, passion is inherent in the field because every day, you can help patients in their most vulnerable times. They trust you to care for them and support them. Nurses can build exceptional relationships with patients, and this brings meaning to each day.

The other key source of meaning comes from seeing the transformations of your patients from sickness to health, from being in the hospital to recovering and going home. You can see the results of how your patients improved under your care and how you played a role in their recovery. This provides fuel to the fire and helps you stay motivated to become the best nurse you can possibly be.

Is Nursing School Hard?

In nursing school, the days can get long. You’ll have to spend regular, focused time on assignments and studying to stay on top of deadlines and prepare for exams. But if you remind yourself of the purpose and meaning behind earning your BSN, you will be motivated to work hard for it.

Nursing School is Hard — But We’re Here to See You Through

Do you want to know how hard accelerated nursing school really is? Learn about what to expect.

5 Ways to Develop Motivation Skills:

  • Think through your why for nursing, and write it down so you can see it every day.
  • Get yourself on a set study schedule every day. Having a system in place and laying out clear expectations for yourself will help you succeed.
  • Use rewards for when you accomplish something. For example, if you finish your studying on schedule, reward yourself by spending time on a hobby.
  • Read a great book about improving your habits, such as Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear.
  • Do hard things. The more you get yourself used to overcoming challenges, the easier every challenge becomes.

4. Critical Thinking

You’ll no doubt put the practical skills and healthcare knowledge you learn in nursing school to good use throughout your nursing career. But they’ll only get you so far if you lack the ability to think critically, especially when it matters most in emergency situations.

You’ll find no black-and-white answers exist to the questions on your exams; rather, it’s a matter of finding the “most right” response to any situation.

The same is true during your clinical rotations and in the real world: most patient care scenarios fall into a gray area. As a nurse, your job will involve developing the most appropriate treatment plan for your patients — sometimes quickly and sometimes without the ability to ask them what’s wrong. At Marian, our ABSN students get used to thinking on their feet through our simulation labs, varied clinical experiences and online-based theory courses.

5 Ways to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills:

  • Ask why. Whenever you don’t understand why a decision was made or something was done in a certain way, ask why.
  • Observe what great nurses do and how they think. When in clinicals, learn not only the medical skills from your preceptors, but observe and emulate the way they use their clinical judgement.
  • Do practice scenarios. Think through how you would respond in various clinical situations.
  • If you do something wrong in clinicals, ask your preceptor to break down the reasoning for you so you understand why the right way is right and the wrong way is wrong. 
  • Never think you’re the smartest person in the room. This will help you always keep learning from others.

5. Organization

Part of a nurse’s job involves organizing and managing a patient’s care plan while juggling multiple patients during a shift. Strong organizational skills are vital to being a great nurse, as they will help you avoid making mistakes. Creating systems and knowing how to prioritize will help you effectively care for a patient.

In accelerated nursing school, you will need to keep track of your online assignments, upcoming exams, clinical schedules, and on-site simulation lab schedules. You also need to develop organizational skills for studying your online course materials in the way that works best for you.

“It was a transition at first to know how much to study for each course and know how to manage your time appropriately when you don’t have a set class schedule. But by the time you took the first test, and were like, ‘OK I either was or wasn’t prepared,’ then you learn how much you need to study and how much time is OK to spend on other activities,” says Allison Clark, a graduate of Marian University’s ABSN program.

Marian University - ABSN student studying

Developing strong organizational systems for studying and balancing your priorities will help you excel in classes.

5 Ways to Develop Organizational Skills:

  • Write your entire schedule down, or better yet, put it in your phone calendar with reminders.
  • Study at consistent, set times during the day.
  • Plan ahead with your time off so you don’t get behind schedule with your studies.
  • Work ahead, not behind. Procrastination is not your friend.
  • When you start clinicals, print off your patient list, then write down key notes by their names so you can keep track of everyone. Remember to shred this sheet at the end of your shift for privacy reasons.

Differences Between Soft and Hard Skills

Soft skills are the non-measurable skills you can develop and use in your career and life. Hard skills in nursing focus on education and hands-on learning for IV placement, CPR, wound care, medications, etc. However, soft skills in nursing are more intangible, as they include things like compassion, critical thinking, dedication, and timeliness.

Nursing schools put a great deal of weight on soft skills, and some prefer the term power skills, for this more accurately reflects the gravity of these skills for success in the profession. Do not overlook these skills of a nurse. Rather, do your best to assess your growth areas and focus on improvement.

Skills vs Qualities

Another important note is that we use the term skills rather than qualities because skills can be improved and built upon, while qualities imply a personality trait that is unchangeable. These soft skills can markedly improve with time and effort.

Why Are Soft Skills Important for Nursing Students?

Hard skills make up most of your structured nursing education, but your soft skills determine what kind of nurse your patients see you as. You may know all the nursing knowledge in the world, but it’s your compassion and human touch that mean even more to your patients. The nurse who spends extra time listening to patients and supporting them in difficult times will become etched in their memory.

Nurses consistently rank among the most honest and ethical professionals, and this is increasing in recent years, according to Gallup polls. One of the core reasons people trust nurses is because they possess many of these soft skills.

Do You Have the Key Soft Skills in Nursing?

If you have the desire and drive to become a nurse and have a bachelor’s degree in any field, you’re already well on your way to a new, rewarding profession. The Marian ABSN program can help equip you with the medical and scientific knowledge as well as the rest of these soft skills nurses and nursing students need to be great at their jobs.

To learn more and to find out if you’d be a good fit for our program, reach out to one of our admission advisors today.

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