The objective of any nursing education program is simple: teaching each student how to be a good nurse. From clinical competency to bedside manner, quality nursing education is about developing the skills required to deliver exceptional patient care.
But, learning how to be a better nurse—one who goes above and beyond to excel in their nursing career—takes personal commitment, time, and a deeper understanding of the nursing profession. Whether you’re striving for excellence as a new nurse or looking to climb up the levels of nursing, this guide is for you.
Below, we’re breaking down some of the top characteristics of excellent nurses and exploring traits exceptional nurses constantly strive for.
The Importance of Being a Good Nurse
Nursing is a high-impact career. These trained healthcare professionals have the potential to impact:
- Patient outcomes – Excellent nurses help multiple patients reach their health and wellness goals.
- Team success – Nurses are a key part of any care team; their support and dedication can make or break the success and efficiency of their professional peer group.
- Entire healthcare systems – Feedback and initiative from nurses can improve facilities and healthcare systems.
Nurses are uniquely positioned to impact their patients, workplaces, and public health positively.
Key Qualities of a Good Nurse
When students learn how to be a good nurse, which characteristics should they strive for? Let’s break down some of the key qualities of an excellent nurse.
Empathy is an incredibly important trait for anyone in the nursing profession. Healthcare workers who show high levels of empathy can treat their patients more efficiently.1
Empathy, in practice, can look like:
- Active listening – Good nurses truly listen to their patients—they ask follow-up questions and get to the heart of their concerns.
- Compassion – Nurses care deeply about their patients and their patients’ health outcomes.
- Advocacy – Nurses want the best for their patients and should advocate for their care whenever necessary.
Clinical competency—the ability to perform critical nursing tasks consistently and correctly—is just as important as empathy in the nursing profession. Some of the key clinical tasks required of nurses are:
- Direct patient care – Placing IVs, administering medications, placing catheters, and contributing to the diagnostic process are essential nursing functions.
- Indirect patient care – Tasks like charting, giving reports, and managing patient and unit cleanliness directly contribute to patient outcomes.
- Proficiency and knowledge maintenance – Best practices and nursing knowledge can change—this is the nature of a science-based profession. Staying up-to-date on current tactics is necessary for nurses who want to excel.
Effective Communication Skills
Good nurses have a grasp of two key communication skills:
- Content – Nurses must communicate complex information efficiently and in a manner that’s easy to understand (the latter is especially important when it comes to liaising with patients and their families).
- Timing – Communicating consistently and regularly is as important as communicating correct information. Keeping the entire care team informed throughout each case is key.
Following Protocols and Maintaining Ethical Standards
In order to support multiple patients and succeed in their careers, good nurses closely follow established policies and maintain the highest possible ethical standards. Just a few of these include:
- Patient confidentiality – Patient privacy isn’t just a legal imperative—it’s also an ethical responsibility and a key tenet of patient dignity.
- Informed consent – Consent can be complex in some cases, but nurses should make every possible effort to maintain high standards of consent.
- Safety procedures – Established procedures are designed to protect everyone in a clinical setting, from patients to support staff.
Time Management and Staying Organized
While they’re considered “soft skills” in the nursing profession, timeliness and organization directly impact patient outcomes. Essential nursing skills like:
- Prioritize tasks – Prioritization can help nurses delegate tasks and deliver care efficiently.
- Cluster care tasks – Knowing which tasks to group together—e.g., bathing a patient right after changing their linens in a hospital setting—supports good time management and patient comfort.
- Manage workloads – Simply put, nursing is demanding work. Knowing how to manage large workloads while balancing self-care and maintaining work-life balance is a must.
Nurses understand how to use their resources to solve complex patient problems. Resourceful nurses are proficient in the following:
- Critical thinking – Understanding how complex ideas interrelate helps nurses come to correct conclusions about patient care.
- Problem-solving – Using the tools they have to solve nuanced patient problems is part and parcel of any nursing position.
Nurses who know how to use their available supplies and strategies to provide patient care are poised to excel in any clinical environment.
Double-Checking for Accuracy
Good nurses develop close attention to detail to catch errors, ensure safety, and support patient success. Since healthcare is a team-based profession, there are multiple potential points of human error in the care process—accuracy and a keen eye for detail are a must for any quality nurse.
Precision and close review are paramount in many areas of nursing practice, including:
- Medication administration
- Charting and verbal reporting
- Patient education and communication
- Diagnostic support
- Patient assessments and testing
Since the medical field is ever-evolving, nurses must try to maintain familiarity with current information and best practices; one of the best ways to facilitate this ongoing education is to partner with a mentor.
Mentorship has numerous potential perks for nurses:
- Accountability – Mentors and mentees can hold each other accountable for staying up-to-date on cutting-edge strategies and information.
- Guidance and growth – Experienced mentors can help less-experienced nurses take the steps they need to advance and grow their skills.
- Professional camaraderie – Since nursing is a demanding profession, professional support is critical for ongoing career satisfaction. Mentors can offer a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on when nurses need them.
Following New Developments in the Medical Field
We’ve briefly mentioned staying up-to-date on advancements in the medical field, but this is a must-have trait for nurses.
There are a few ways that nurses (and other healthcare professionals) can maintain their industry knowledge:
- Liaising with other professionals – Maintaining relationships with other healthcare experts can help nurses stay in the loop on new industry developments.
- Investing time in professional development – By engaging in continuing education, nurses can ensure exposure to new ideas and care tactics.
- Reading publications – Browsing new research papers, clinical journals, and studies can help nurses stay informed of ongoing developments and discoveries.
Staying Calm in Stressful Situations
Learning to navigate stressful situations helps nurses develop efficient, calm decision-making skills. No matter their clinical setting, nurses may encounter stressful situations like:
- Codes and emergent patient issues
- Time-sensitive medication administration
- Unexpected reactions to treatments or medications
- Patient and family conflicts
- Human errors and their implications
Nurses struggling to maintain a calm demeanor shouldn’t lose hope—time and experience can help healthcare professionals fine-tune their approach to stressful situations.
How to Become a Better Nurse
Experience, mentorship, and focus can help prospective and new nurses develop the basic skills they need to succeed. But what does it take to become an even better nurse? Let’s explore a few tactics to help nurses go above and beyond the call of duty.
Continue your Education and Seek Professional Development Opportunities
While employer-offered professional development opportunities are certainly useful to nurses, in-depth and rigorous continuing education can be a worthwhile investment for any nurse looking to improve.
At Alliant International University, nurses can engage with a variety of continuing education opportunities at multiple levels, including:
- Bachelor of science in nursing program – Our BSN program is an excellent option for healthcare professionals looking to advance from CNA or supervised positions or pursue licensure.
- Master of science in nursing program – Healthcare workers and other science professionals with a bachelor’s degree in another discipline can get an MSN degree to level up their nursing knowledge or transition to a career in nursing.
- Master of science in nursing, nurse executive program – The MSN nurse executive program at Alliant is designed for current nurses looking to advance into a clinical, leadership-focused role.
Build Strong Relationships with Colleagues
While pursuing mentorship is a hallmark of any good nurse, an exceptional nurse pursues strong relationships with colleagues to create positive, impactful work environments. That can look like:
- Fostering collaboration – Building teamwork opportunities and encouraging collaborative approaches can help nurses provide exceptional patient care.
- Facilitating mutual support – Curating a support network for unit or department staff can help maintain morale, create a learning-focused environment, and build trust and mutual appreciation for healthcare staff at every level.
- Bolstering communication – Keeping communication lines open and encouraging empowered conversations between professionals doesn’t just support patient outcomes—it can also lay the groundwork for excellent collaboration between peers.
Identify Opportunities for Growth
While every nurse should develop their skills, excellent nurses take a self-aware approach to professional development by reflecting on opportunities for growth. Nurses can invest in this process by:
- Leveraging the self-assessment process – Many employers will require nurses to complete a regular nursing self-assessment. Leaning into self-assessment can help nurses identify key growth opportunities and set realistic goals.
- Asking mentors for feedback – Asking for feedback and taking it to heart is key to professional growth in any industry; and a nursing job is no exception.
- Intentionally working with peers – Skill-sharing between nurses is an excellent way to foster leadership abilities while improving key competencies.
Find the Setting that Suits You
Nurses can work in a variety of clinical settings, and finding the venue that’s most compatible with their personality, nursing skill sets, preferences, and advancement goals is just one way that nurses can truly level up their professional performance.
Nurses interested in advancing to a nurse practitioner position might consider a private practice role. Nurses looking to hone their leadership skills may take a position in a hospital critical care environment. Nurses who want to improve their bedside manner and focus on patient relationships might choose to work in rural or small clinics.
Finding a work opportunity that aligns with their nursing skill set and goals can help nurses narrow down and discover their passion.
Manage Stress and Cultivate Resilience
One of the best ways to support a care-based career is to care for yourself. To build a strong foundation for service, nurses need to invest in their own:
- Physical health – Staying healthy can help nurses perform at their best and reduce transmission risks to patients.
- Mental health – There’s no denying that nursing is a physically and mentally challenging profession. While nursing is incredibly rewarding, nurses must develop strategies to protect their mental health as they advance in the field.
Unlock Exceptional Nursing Skills at Alliant International University
Nurses looking to grow and excel must learn to juggle and refine numerous skills—a challenge they can meet head-on with intentional preparation, investment in professional development, and guidance from peers and mentors.
When you’re ready to develop the traits of an exceptional nurse, consider a continuing education program at Alliant International University. Our programs offer a winning combination of expert instruction, top-of-the-line technology in nursing, and hands-on learning experiences to support today’s nursing professionals. We’re deeply committed to student success and ongoing career growth.
- Moudatsou, M., Stavropoulou, A., Philalithis, A., Koukouli, S. “The Role of Empathy in Health and Social Care Professionals.” National Library of Medicine. January 20, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7151200/. Accessed December 20, 2023.