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Essential Soft Skills for Nurses

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How to be a good nurse involves more than mastering “hard” technical skills—in fact, some of the most essential nursing skills are those that traditionally fall in the “soft” category. Qualities such as leadership, compassion, and good communication are just a few of the many desirable soft skills for nurses. This may not be entirely surprising when you consider that many nurses work directly with patients, but because nurses who occupy administrative positions also need to possess many of the same qualities, the importance of soft skills in a nursing career cannot be understated.

Hard skills in nursing are unquestionably important, which is why nursing degree programs place so much emphasis on them. Learning about new methods of nursing, new technologies, and new medicines and treatments isn’t simply about acquiring new nursing skills for your resume—a passion for knowledge is part of what makes a great nurse. However, because nursing directly impacts patient outcomes and satisfaction, mastering the hard skills just isn’t enough.

9 Soft Skills for Nurses

The skills needed to be a nurse are many—what makes a good nurse isn’t just one or two things. What makes a good nurse is a collection of traits and skills that may come naturally or may need to be learned.

So, what are some important soft skills for nurses? We’ve identified 9 common soft skills needed for nurses below.

  1. Be Adaptable: If you were to ask different people to list the strengths of a good nurse, you would probably hear the world “adaptable” more than once. Knowing how to adjust to changing situations is not only important for registered nurses (RNs) working directly with patients in a hospital environment but for all types of nurses, as medical procedures, technology, and the healthcare landscape in general are always changing.

  2. Be Resilient: Any experienced nurse can tell you: If it can happen, it will happen. At the end of a long shift, it’s normal to feel a little run down from caring for patients and being on your feet all day. But great nurses know not to give up—they’re able to de-stress and show up ready to take on whatever challenges arise in the next shift. Being resilient in this way is one of the strengths of a good nurse because it is necessary in order to continue to work well under pressure.

  3. Be Detail-Oriented and Organized:Nursing is a detail-oriented career in every sense of the word, and it requires a high level of organization. Registered nurses are responsible for ensuring that patients receive their treatments and medicines at the right time, which could be a difficult task if they are working with multiple patients with different healthcare needs, as they often do. When you consider the potentially dire consequences of not paying attention to all the details and keeping organized, it’s easy to see why these traits are among the soft skills needed to be a nurse.

  4. Show Leadership: Exhibiting leadership qualities in nursing is always an asset, even for nurses who are not in leadership or management positions. Why? Because it’s common to be confronted with high-stress situations in nursing, and leadership qualities can help you maintain a cool head and effectively communicate next steps.

  5. Think Critically: Critical thinking in nursing is absolutely necessary. To think critically is to look at a situation rationally and make informed decisions. In nursing, critical thinking comes into play when RNs have to determine whether to take corrective action or make referrals in response to changes in a patient’s health status.1

  6. Exude Professionalism: Another essential nursing skill for RNs is the ability to manage emotions in the face of emergencies and human suffering.1 Because nursing is often patient facing, it’s important to maintain composure and act professionally—never forget that patients rely on nurses to help them through all types of medical issues, so keeping emotions under control can go a long way in providing comfort and increasing satisfaction.

  7. Communicate Effectively: It almost goes without saying that effective communication in nursing is a critical aspect of how to be a good nurse. In fact, effective communication in nursing can be the difference between good and bad healthcare outcomes. The ability to speak earnestly and honestly with patients and understand their concerns, adequately explain instructions (such as how and when to take medication), and clearly communicate with doctors and other medical staff are all invaluable soft skills for nurses to possess.1

  8. Demonstrate Compassion: In acute care settings, nurses spend more time with patients than other types of healthcare providers such as physicians and surgeons.2 Because of this reality, it is important that nurses show compassion and empathy in their patient interactions. This characteristic isn’t just a nursing skill for your resume—offering kindness and understanding can help make an often-difficult time for patients a little easier, and that’s very important.

  9. Maintain a Positive Attitude: Staying positive in the face of sickness and suffering could be one of the most difficult soft skills for nurses to master. However, nurses who stay positive may be able serve as a beacon of hope for patients who might otherwise have none. And because positivity is contagious, exuding this quality could benefit colleagues as well, which in turn could lead to more positive overall healthcare outcomes for patients.

Thinking about taking your nursing education further? Learn more about CTU’s College of Nursing RN-to-BSN program and why program accreditation is important.


1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Registered Nurses,” available at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm#tab-4 (last visited 4/10/2020).
2. Keith Carlson via Multibriefs, “Nurse-Patient Interaction: Not Just Touchy-Feely,” Nurses USA, available at http://nursesusa.org/article_nurse_patient_interaction.asp (last visited 4/10/2020)

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