Critical thinking is the ability to recognize problems and raise questions, gather evidence to support answers and solutions, evaluate alternative solutions, and communicate effectively with others to implement solutions for the best possible outcomes. Essential in nursing care, critical thinking skills are the basis for learning to prioritize and make decisions. Because nurses provide care for patients 24/7, a nurse’s critical thinking skills can literally mean the difference between life and death. These skills are necessary not only to provide bedside care, but to make policy decisions. Looking at the entire picture and how everything is related helps nurses plan for the best outcome for the patient.
The nursing model requires that nurses provide basic care for patients to keep them as comfortable as possible, address their physical, emotional and spiritual needs, and support the family. This aspect of patient care can be a very big job in and of itself. Nurses are in the role of patient advocate. They need to assess the patient’s various needs, talk to the families, express the patient’s wishes (if the patient is unable to speak for his or herself), and coordinate the patient/family wishes with the plan of care and with the physician. Many times nurses are the ones that need to do the cleaning, turning, skin care, baths and feeding. All of these basic care tasks require compassion and caring in order to be performed effectively.
Technology is pervasive in every aspect of nursing and it continues to advance. Point of care computing, the electronic health record, monitoring equipment and many other technologies are used by nurses with each patient on every shift. Nurses use technology such as vents, CCRT, IABPs and more, to assist in patient care. They administer highly potent medications to manage clinical symptoms based on "numbers" obtained from the technology. Being proficient with technology, embracing its benefits, and helping others on the team to learn how to use it is becoming more and more important as a critical nursing skill.
One of the most valued characteristics any nurse can possess is flexibility. Things change in a heartbeat and it is essential for nurses to be able to adapt and proceed accordingly and quickly. Nurses need to be able to rapidly change assignments, help where needed and do whatever is necessary to support their patients.
Strong assessment skills are a must. Even if a nurse is unable to "diagnose", if he or she can provide an accurate assessment to the physician, it is invaluable. Nurses need to be able to weed out irrelevant or illogical information and convey precise, accurate and factual information – both to other caregivers and to patients and families. They need to communicate clearly both in writing and speaking and provide an account of their reasoning process.
Today’s nurses are skilled, capable professionals. Their expertise is essential to patient care and public health initiatives. Developing critical skills has led to this transformation in the last century, and tomorrow’s nurses will likely play an even greater role in patient care. Which skills do you think are critical for nursing and why? Tell us in the comments below.