Top 20 Nursing Skills You Learn from a Nursing Degree  

Published on: July 12, 2023

What is a skilled nurse, and what skills are required to be a nurse? Skilled nurses are those that have covered all the necessary training to excel in their chosen areas of practice. To gain all the skills they will need at the professional level, nursing students must ensure that their postsecondary nursing program is a core nursing skills competency program. Read on to learn about the top 20 skills that nurses must have if they want to succeed in the modern healthcare environment.

What Hard Skills Should Nurses Have?

Hard nursing skills often make a life-or-death difference for patients. Any good nursing degree should equip you with the core medical and procedural knowledge and experience that you will need to become licensed as a nurse and work confidently in your chosen field.

1. Patient Care Knowledge and Techniques

Because patient care lies at the very heart of the nursing profession, the knowledge and techniques needed to deliver that care are exceedingly important. This means that nurses must have a firm command of nursing fundamentals such as patient assessment, vital sign measurement, care planning and exam and treatment assistance. They must also possess a firm understanding of medical terminology and legal and ethical standards. Read on for more information about various technical, patient-oriented tasks that nurses generally learn in nursing school.

2. Urgent and Emergency Care

Even if you don’t necessarily plan to become an ER nurse, you will want to build some solid urgent and emergency care skills to support your practice. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, roughly 55% of registered nurses work in general medical and surgical hospitals, which must cope with a constant flow of incoming patients and urgent cases. Even outside the hospital setting, nurses may encounter emergency medical circumstances. For this reason, nurses are wise to learn at least basic urgent care fundamentals.

3. Taking Patient and Family History

A crucial element of the patient assessment process, gathering and recording patient and family history gives the healthcare team a solid foundation on which to start building viable diagnosis and treatment options. In addition to asking patients about any current symptoms, nurses need to gather information about past conditions and important issues such as allergies and pharmaceutical reactions. Beyond patient history, nurses must often take family medical histories to better diagnose hereditary conditions.

4. Healthtech Skills

The march of modern technology has improved healthcare by leaps and bounds. But this technology is useless in the hands of medical professionals who don’t know how to use it. Depending on their specific areas of expertise, today’s nurses may want to build healthcare technology (or “healthtech”) skills that allow them to file electronic health records (EHRs), conduct telemedicine visits, operate wearable devices and work with mobile health apps. Of course, healthtech-savvy nurses will also be able to use computers and mobile devices as needed in the workplace.

5. Proper Patient Transport

Helping patients with mobility issues is an integral part of many nursing positions. This might mean lifting patients in and out of bed, supporting them as they sit down or stand up, wheeling them in a wheelchair or hospital bed or assisting them as they walk. They may also need to instruct and train patients to use mobility equipment such as wheelchairs and crutches. When hospital patients are discharged, nurses may even be tasked with transporting them to a vehicle.

6. Performing CPR and BLS

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an essential skill and a required certification for all nurses. When a person’s heart stops beating, performing CPR as quickly as possible can double or triple that person’s chance of survival, according to the American Heart Association. All nurses must also hold basic life support (BLS) certification, which demonstrates an ability to respond immediately to assist people who are experiencing a severe medical emergency.

7. Medication Management

With the notable exception of nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses cannot prescribe medications, but they can aid qualified physicians and NPs in the prescription process. When the proper prescriptions have been filled, nurses play a critical role in the administration of medications and the oversight of the patient medication plan. As they monitor patient care, nurses often collaborate with physicians and other medical team members to change medications or adjust medication dosage.

8. Patient Safety and Infection Control

The patient safety concerns of nurses extend far beyond the specific facilities in which they work. Nurses must provide detailed instruction and do all that they can to prevent falls, avoid medication issues and generally ensure the safety of patients both while they are under direct care and after they depart the facility. A big part of ensuring patient safety, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is infection control. Effective infection control measures not only protect the health of your patients but the health of healthcare staff and the general public as well.

9. EMR Charting

A key technological advancement in recordkeeping, electronic medical record (EMR) charting allows healthcare professionals to document and store patient medical information electronically. Storing this information in a centralized database or on the cloud, EMR charting is far more efficient and convenient than traditional paper charting.

10. IV Placement and Infusions

Short for “intravenous,” the term “IV” is often used to refer to the needle, catheter or tubing system that delivers intravenous fluids into a patient’s bloodstream. Nurses are commonly tasked with “placing” these IVs (inserting them into a patient’s vein, typically in the hand or arm). They must then generally oversee the infusion of prescribed fluids through the IV.

What Soft Skills Should Nurses Have?

While hard nursing skills (which are typically technical in nature and require in-depth medical expertise) are certainly essential, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of soft skills. These more general skills may not be specific to the healthcare sector, but they are often essential to master if you want to be a valued nursing team member and a top candidate for career growth.

11. Effective Communication

If you were asked to identify a skill/task that was taught in your basic nursing program that surprised you, effective communication may be the first to spring to mind. But the emphasis that nursing degree programs place on communication makes perfect sense when you pause to consider it. The average nurse constantly communicates with patients and their family members, and nurses of all kinds must learn to communicate effectively with the medical teams that they support, often in high-pressure and time-sensitive situations.

12. Critical Thinking

The tough scenarios in which nurses often find themselves require effective critical thinking in addition to communication skills. Critical thinking in the nursing profession involves accurately analyzing patient situations and making the best possible decisions based on that analysis. From onboarding new patients to identifying new conditions and symptoms, it is important for nurses to assess information and solve problems quickly.

13. Physical Endurance

Nurses often work long shifts and may have regular opportunities or requests for overtime, so nursing students should prepare to work long hours on their feet. Particularly strenuous tasks such as lifting patients in and out of bed and providing physical support during movement only add to the physical demand that many nurses endure during the workday.

14. Empathy for Family Members

A valuable quality among nurses, empathy is the ability to see things from someone else’s point of view. Because nurses often work with patients struggling with troubling health concerns, an empathetic approach is key when it comes to providing high-quality care. Although some people may be naturally more empathetic than others, empathy is also a learned skill – and it’s never too late to acquire it! Specifically, you can learn how to listen more carefully, validate the feelings of others and employ effective conflict-resolution strategies.

15. Interpersonal Skills

Building empathy can greatly enhance your interpersonal skills. Also known as “social skills,” interpersonal skills help you to interact with people in a friendly, affirmative and productive manner. This can aid in all your workplace relationships as a nurse, with individuals who range from patients to supervisors. Specific nursing interpersonal skills to emphasize include patience, cooperation, motivation, flexibility, dependability and leadership.

16. Teamwork Management

Because nurses generally function as part of a larger medical team, teamwork is paramount to success in the field. If you grow into nursing leadership positions over time, you will need to promote optimal teamwork by managing elements such as rapport and respect-building, problem-solving, conflict resolution, listening and persuasion.

17. High Attention to Detail

Because the health and well-being of their patients are so important and because they are tasked with a broad range of often complex tasks they must complete in a timely manner, nurses must be detail-oriented to succeed. They must exercise extreme precision to ensure that patients receive the right therapeutic treatments, including the right dosages of the right medication and at the right time. They must also be able to assess changing patient symptoms in detail and document evolving patient statuses with absolute accuracy.

18. Organization and Time Management

Good organization can help you manage your time, while effective time management can help you better organize your day. Nurses tend to handle multiple patients at once. Prioritizing and planning daily tasks, from medication administration to equipment setup, is extremely important.

19. High Adaptability/Flexibility

Although planning is a key element of nursing, nurses must also have the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. Each day is different for most nurses, and nurses often have to “roll with the punches” and cope with a constant stream of last-minute changes in areas that include shift scheduling, patient condition, treatment alterations and assigned responsibilities.

20. Ethics and Professionalism

While people may argue the finer points of ethics, most of us can generally agree on the basic difference between right and wrong. Essentially, nurses should approach their workplace responsibilities with a great amount of discipline and strive to treat everyone in the workplace with absolute respect. In terms of delivering ethical and professional care, nurses must endeavor to preserve patient dignity and remember their pledge to “first, do no harm.”

Your Story in Nursing Starts Here

So what skills are needed to be a nurse? While the 20 listed above are a great place to start, your own nursing story might include any number of others. Keep the above list in mind as you consider a career in nursing. There will be opportunities to grow in some areas in your general life, but other skills will be developed as you pursue your nursing degree.

Park University is a great place to begin writing your nursing story while working toward a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or another relevant degree through our College of Education and Health Professions. Request more information today to get started!

Park University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Park University is a private, non-profit, institution of higher learning since 1875.