Ten important skills and qualities you need for a nursing career

Switching careers to nursing can be a very smart move. In addition to being a long-term career where your skills are always in demand, you get to work in a variety of settings and make a difference in people’s lives. If you’re wondering what skills and qualities you will need for a successful career in nursing, here is a closer look.

A caring and supportive personality

A caring and supportive personality is crucial to nursing as you will care for patients and communicate with their families. Some of these patients will have received devastating diagnoses or ones that require extensive treatment and uncertain odds. You need to be able to help them come to terms with this and also help their family members, who may be struggling as well.

In addition, your colleagues may need your support, whether it’s assistance with work tasks or emotional support. The work you do will involve extremely personal details about your patients’ health. At times, it may be difficult for nursing staff and other medical professionals to see the patient going through their illness. It is important to keep patients’ information confidential, so your colleagues will often be the only people you can discuss this with and gain emotional support from. This works both ways; you will be expected to support them in the same way.

However, any existing transferable skills and experience you have can be a good starting point for switching to a nursing career. Everything you need to know can be learned through the Elmhurst College nursing programs. These allow you to study and become a registered nurse in less than two years. You can choose from the Accelerated BSN or the Master’s Entry in Nursing Practice. Guidance and support are available to help you determine which is the best option for you.

The ability to empathize with people

Throughout your career in nursing, empathy will be essential. Many of us can empathize with others who have experienced the same or similar issues to us. However, it can be more difficult to have the same empathy for someone with whom we have little in common and have not had similar experiences.

To help develop empathy toward people from all walks of life rather than just those we share common experiences with, it can help to overcome biases. You could try gaining a deeper understanding by asking open questions about the different aspects of their life. Acknowledge their feelings instead of trying to downplay them, but also explain to them how you and your colleagues can help them.

Often, just spending time listening to them will help you get a better grasp of who they are and why they may be reluctant to accept treatment or have an opinion that goes against yours.

Despite not agreeing with someone, you can still empathize with their situation. This can also benefit the professional relationship between you and your colleagues, as some coworkers may have different ideas about what methods and treatments should be used.

Communication skills

Strong communication skills are important for nursing. Not all patients will understand some of the more technical jargon, and most just want the simplest explanation to help them understand the diagnosis and the options available to them. Depending on the diagnosis, patients can be in denial, become scared, or cope in unexpected ways. You must be capable of reassuring them about the treatments available but also make it clear why a specific course of treatment is so important without unduly scaring them. It’s difficult to achieve this balance, but effective communication can help.

It is crucial to communicate in a way patients and their families can understand. This helps to protect you and your employer from any claims at a later date stating a patient didn’t know about specific aspects of the treatment or the risks involved.

You also need to be able to communicate with colleagues as it is unlikely you will be the only person dealing with a specific patient. Sometimes they will see multiple health professionals, either for different conditions or based on who is available. Communicating both in person and by updating medical records in a timely manner can help to keep everything running smoothly and prevent mistakes from being made.

Being able to prioritize

Nursing is a career where you will never be bored. There is always something to do, and often there will be more patients to see than you have time for. This means that to help the most people effectively, you need to be highly skilled in prioritizing.

You have to think quickly and give more time to those who need it. Conditions or symptoms that present the biggest risk to them will always have the greater priority. You may have to refer them to a specialist rather than try to treat them yourself, even if you have the specific knowledge and skills to do this. It can be difficult to accept, but your role will often be to spend a small amount of time with a lot of different patients rather than a longer time with only a few patients.

Much of this depends on the specific role in which you work as a nurse. For example, working as a nurse in an emergency room will involve helping to assess each patient and the urgency of their problem on a case-by-case basis. This can be fast-paced, and although you need to ask specific questions to avoid missing anything important, it is unlikely you will get to spend enough time with them to learn their full medical history. You will need to judge which questions are the most important, then decide if you should delve deeper based on the answers.

Some departments will have their own criteria to help you prioritize, but this should be combined with your assessment and only used as an educated guide rather than something that must be strictly followed, even against your better judgment.

Knowing when to ask for help

Your shifts as a nurse will often be hectic. It can be tempting to try to do as much as possible on your own to avoid taking up your colleagues’ time. This might feel like you’re doing them a favor, allowing them to focus on their individual workloads. However, if you need a second opinion or are unsure about anything, it is better to ask for help. Your colleagues will probably do the same.

Mistakes in nursing can be costly. They can lead to a misdiagnosis, or in extreme cases, a loss of life and lawsuits. To avoid this, you should feel comfortable asking your colleagues for a few minutes of their time. It is important to remember that you are all there for the same reason: to look after the health and well-being of the patients.

When you’re learning or just starting a new career as a nurse, you won’t know everything. Your studies help to prepare you, and work placements provide you with hands-on experience. However, nursing is a career in which practice will always improve your skills and knowledge. Although you may want to prove yourself, it’s important not to take risks just to avoid asking for help. Your senior colleagues will understand and were in the same position earlier in their careers.

If there is a specific part of nursing you struggle with, it is better to be honest instead of trying to overcome it alone. Other members of your team will have their own strengths and weaknesses, and you can make an important contribution by helping them in the areas where they struggle. If you’re someone who feels uncomfortable asking for help, try to remind yourself that you’re part of a team where everyone brings their unique strengths.

Quick decision-making skills

Quick thinking is another skill that you need to develop for a career in nursing. Again, this depends on your specific role. Working in an emergency room will often be fast-paced, and you will need to think just as quickly to keep up. However, nursing in non-emergency hospitals or medical centers may still require you to think on your feet. You may experience fewer emergencies but will still be required to spot signs or symptoms that can become dangerous for the patient.

For example, if a patient complains about several symptoms they have been experiencing, the most obvious answer may not be the actual cause of the symptoms. They may have neglected to mention other problems that they deemed unimportant or unrelated. Being able to think quickly enough to ask the right follow-up questions can reveal the true problem and ensure they get help sooner.

As a nurse, you will have specific tasks and duties to carry out. However, it is not always clear-cut. If you think of something that has been overlooked but doesn’t normally fit into your expected tasks, it is important to address it. Either attempt the task yourself or ask a more qualified team member if it falls outside of your expertise.


You need to have confidence in your own judgment to work in nursing. Not all your patients will agree with what you tell them, and they may refuse treatment or medication when you know it is the best choice for them. If you cannot be confident yet reassuring enough to convince them without causing further worry, they may become more determined not to listen.

There is a fine balance between knowing you’re right and explaining things to the patient without dismissing their concerns or fears.

As you spend more time putting into practice the knowledge learned through your course, you will become more confident in your judgment. At first, you may need to ask those around you, but as a new nurse, you will have a mentor and other senior staff who can guide you. This will eventually help you build confidence in your personal judgment. When learning from others, try not to compare yourself to them too much. Your own confidence may show itself in different ways and can work just as well.

You also need to assert confidence when dealing with troublesome patients. Some may refuse to accept a diagnosis or implement changes that can improve their health. Therefore, you need to be friendly and approachable while still guiding them toward making the right choices.


Working in nursing means dealing with different patients each day. Depending on your role, you may also have several patients you see multiple times and get to know better.

You need to be adaptable because you might go from helping one patient who is being difficult to helping another patient who is scared or confused. How you treat each one will depend on them. You’ll be polite and professional with everyone, but some patients may need more reassurance or further explanations about their conditions. Others will need a polite but strong approach to convince them to cooperate and to help them to understand that all treatment is in their best interest.

In the long term, technology is always improving, and this includes medical advancements. The core skills you learn as part of your qualification will also be valid, but you will need to adapt to new technologies and improved ways of doing things.

Society and policies governing healthcare are constantly changing, too. Something that is recommended now may change over time, and you need to be able to adapt how you work based on these changes. Luckily, these aren’t usually big overnight transformations. They are more likely to be small adjustments that are implemented during your career, and you will often have plenty of time to prepare for them.


You will be on your feet for most or all of your shift and have to deal with various situations. Therefore, you need to be physically and mentally strong enough to endure working in extreme conditions. It’s important to take short breaks to sit, eat and drink throughout your shift, but these won’t be at the same time every day.

Some patients may take up more time than you planned, or you might need to help colleagues when required. Some patients or their circumstances may be tougher for you to see than others. This could be because of personal experience, or they may remind you of people you know. As a professional, you need to help everyone and show empathy and understanding without getting too emotionally involved.

Some people have a stronger endurance than others, but this is one of many areas it is possible to work on and improve. You can increase your mental endurance by having a strong support network of colleagues to turn to. You can also boost your physical endurance by taking care of yourself as much as possible. This includes eating healthier foods and avoiding unhealthy snacks between meals.

You can also make the most of your time off by doing light exercise. There is no need to go on strenuous hikes or complete marathons; any exercise you manage to fit in is better than nothing. Sleeping whenever you can is also good for mentally and physically preparing you for the challenges of the next day.

A strong work ethic

Because of the long hours and challenges faced by nurses, you also need a strong work ethic. However, nursing is also very rewarding, so don’t let this deter you. It is something you should be prepared for, but the feeling of helping someone and seeing positive changes in a patient’s health makes it all feel worthwhile. These are the moments that will remind you why you wanted to switch to a nursing career and the importance of your role.

A strong work ethic will help you persist, overcome challenges, endure long days, and appreciate the results of your hard work. If you’re the type of person who wants a varied role with new challenges every day and the chance to get to know and help a lot of different people, nursing could be the ideal career for you. If you’re not afraid of hard work, it is definitely a satisfying career.

It’s never too late to switch careers, and people with nursing qualifications and experience will always be in demand. If you are currently in a career you’re not happy with, it is worth considering retraining. There may be financial support available, and you can take advantage of flexible study options that let you study at your own pace and allow you to keep working until you graduate.

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