Top Skills Needed To Be a Nurse

nurse looking at clip board

Even if you’re already a working registered nurse (RN), you may be thinking about pursuing additional education to advance your career goals. If you became a nurse with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), it may be time to think about heading back to school for your RN to BSN degree. During a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, you’ll have opportunities to be taught both soft and hard skills needed to be a nurse.

In This Article:

Soft Skills Nurses Need

Soft skills are non-technical skills that shape the way you are able to interact with other people. Although you will work through a curriculum that can teach soft skills in an RN to BSN degree program, you’re likely to have opportunities to continually refine your soft skills through work experience. Some of the top soft skills nurses need are as follows.

1. Communication Skills

Communication skills are good nursing skills to have. Nurses work as members of a collaborative team, communicating regularly with other nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals. Of course, nurses also interact regularly with their patients and family caregivers.

It’s essential for nurses to not only be able to express themselves well orally and in writing, but also to be active listeners. They need to know how to use positive, confident body language, as well as how to interpret the nonverbal cues of their patients.1

2. Leadership Skills

Leadership skills are a type of interpersonal skill that all nurses can benefit from having, whether or not they hold a leadership-related job title.1 A nurse who is a capable leader is someone who acts as a strong advocate for their patients. They must also lead their team by example, such as by demonstrating exemplary professional ethics and a commitment to ongoing professional development.

When you explore the possibility of returning to school to enroll in an RN to BSN degree program, consider looking for a program that offers a course in nursing leadership and management. This may allow you to examine different leadership styles and the skills that effective nurse leaders need.

These leadership skills will be particularly crucial if you decide you want to pursue a high-level role as a nurse manager. Nurse managers need strong leadership skills as they carry out their predominantly administrative and managerial tasks. It should be noted that nurse managers may also need a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree in addition to a BSN.2 

3. Critical Thinking Skills

As a working nurse, you already know that a major part of your job involves assessing a situation and then applying your nursing knowledge to develop an appropriate clinical response. This is a type of critical thinking skill. Critical thinking and problem solving are aided by being open-minded and oriented toward creating positive outcomes.1

4. Professionalism and Ethics

As a nurse, you may have been drawn to the healthcare field because it offered you the opportunity to make a positive difference in your community by helping others in need.

Nurses must have a commitment to placing the best interests of their patients first and foremost. They must cultivate a genuine concern for their patients and a dedication to upholding their patients’ dignity. Sound professional ethics for a nurse are predicated upon:1

  • Respectfulness toward all
  • A positive attitude
  • An embrace of collaboration
  • Personal integrity
  • Intrinsic self-discipline
  • An acute sense of responsibility and personal accountability

5. Adaptability

A hospital or other healthcare facility is often an unpredictable work environment. Nurses are generally placed in charge of multiple patients per shift, and any of them may develop sudden changes in their health status at any given time. The unit’s schedule is also subject to change at a moment’s notice. In short, nurses can benefit from being adaptable and flexible, with strong time management skills and emotional resilience.1

Top Hard Skills Nurses Need

Hard skills are technical skills that can be taught more directly in an RN to BSN degree program. For example, you may have opportunities to improve your nursing research and mathematics skills, and to learn about emerging trends in nursing. Here’s a look at some of the top technical nursing student skills.

1. Technology Skills

Nurses may not need to be savvy computer programmers, but they should be computer literate and able to quickly adapt to using new technologies. Nurses need to use sophisticated medical equipment to care for their patients, as well as complex software systems to update patients’ electronic health records (EHRs). The software used by nurses can vary from one hospital to the next, so it’s important to be able to adapt to different technologies.1

2. Patient Safety Skills

Patients go to the hospital to heal from injuries and illnesses, yet, as nurses know all too well, patients may also acquire new health problems from the hospital environment. Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) and injuries from events such as falls can derail a patient’s progress and certainly doesn’t support a favorable patient outcome.

Patient safety skills are definitely among the top skills needed to be a nurse. Nurses apply their safety skills when:1

  • Taking steps to reduce the risk of a medication error
  • Helping patients avoid falls in the hospital
  • Reducing the risk of an HAI by following proper protocols
  • Educating patients and family caregivers on safety protocols to follow at home

3. Patient and Family Education

Nurses wear many hats, and one of them is being an educator. Although patient and family education might seem like a soft skill because it involves communication skills, it’s actually considered a hard skill because it requires clinical nursing knowledge. In order to explain a diagnosis to a patient, you need to fully understand it yourself.

Nurses need to be able to adjust their education efforts to suit the level of comprehension of the patient and their family caregivers. Some patients might possess excellent health literacy, while others have trouble with concepts that a nurse might consider to be basic. Some examples of patient and family education include:1

  • Helping patients understand what their illness or injury means
  • Discussing the various treatment options and their potential benefits and side effects
  • Explaining the patient’s pain management options and how to use them safely
  • Discussing prescriptions and offering tips for safe medication management at home
  • Explaining how to reduce the risk of infections
  • Discussing potential complications and side effects

Delivering comprehensive patient and family caregiver education is a necessary precursor to obtaining informed consent.

What Are Good Nursing Skills for Specific Specializations?

All nurses — no matter the specialization — can benefit from having the skills detailed above. However, certain nursing specialties may draw upon particular skills more than others.

For example, if you choose to specialize in nursing informatics, you’ll need strong information technology and data analytics skills.3 If you’re interested in specializing in ER nursing, you’ll need to have high energy levels and the ability to react with sound clinical judgment under high-pressure situations.4

If you’re ready to pursue potential career advancement and develop critical nursing student skills, then consider completing the RN to BSN program from Grand Canyon University. GCU’s nursing degree programs offer opportunities to develop a range of soft and hard nursing skills. You can discover more about this degree by completing the form on this page or visiting the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions webpage.


1 Indeed. (2023, August 2). 15 essential nursing skills to include on your resume. Indeed. Retrieved August 17, 2023. 

2 Oppenheimer, T. (2022, October 26). Nurse manager. Retrieved August 17, 2023. 

3 Monteiro, I. (2022, December 12). What is nursing informatics? (definition, duties and skills) Indeed. Retrieved August 17, 2023. 

4 Hamstra, B. (2021, November 15). 4 major differences between ICU and emergency nurses. Retrieved August 17, 2023.

Approved by the dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions on Oct. 2, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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