10 Essential Qualities of a Good Nurse

Female nurse

Nurses epitomize compassion, expertise, and unparalleled bravery, especially highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their dedication and integrity have rightfully earned the nursing profession the top spot in the Gallup Poll as the most trusted, honest, and ethical. Recognizing their profound impact, Nurses Month in May serves as a celebration of the remarkable characteristics that make nurses indispensable. Below, we explore 10 quintessential qualities that embody the essence of exceptional nursing.

1. Compassion and empathy

When a patient is sick and scared, it's often their nurse who provides the comfort, compassion, and empathy they need to heal. This goes beyond simply being kind. In fact, an international research study in the American Nurses Association's Online Journal of Issues in Nursing asked nurses what compassion meant and identified five key attributes:

  • Listening
  • Developing a relationship
  • Alleviating suffering
  • Touch
  • Going beyond the role of a nurse

Compassionate nurses might hold their patient's hand or rub their back, sit at the edge of their bed and listen to a story, or volunteer in the local community.

2. Clinical acumen

There's a reason that people trust nurses so implicitly. In addition to being compassionate caregivers, they're skilled and highly educated and trained clinicians who can be counted on to provide excellent healthcare procedures and services when patients need them most. Many are credentialed and privileged through processes that are as rigorous as that for physicians. Hands-on skills like taking vital signs and administering medications are only the tip of the iceberg for clinical competencies in nursing. Nurses' clinical skills and responsibilities are near-endless, depending on the specialty or subspecialty, and range from treating traumatic injuries to wound care to electrocardiogram monitoring, and so much more.

3. Dedication to continuous education

Great nurses are committed to lifelong learning, staying up to date with new clinical and research developments, and keeping their skills sharp. That not only means maintaining their licensure, applying evidence-based practices, and obtaining mandated continuing education, but also earning certifications in specialties like pediatrics, cardiac care, gerontology, pain management, mental health, and many other disciplines. Nurses also often work toward advanced practice, becoming nurse practitioners, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and more. This is critically important, since research shows that higher levels of nurse education lead to better patient outcomes. To aid nurses in obtaining or renewing medical certifications and RN licenses, there are online certification and RN licensing guides, such as this one from Vivian Health.

4. Ability to work solo and as part of a team

While teamwork and autonomy might seem like opposites, they're actually two sides of the same coin—and good nurses have a mastery of both. Nurses must understand their role and responsibilities and what it means in the big picture of patient care and care coordination. However, they also need the autonomy and confidence to make decisions independently that are in the best interest of their patients, under pressure, and in real time.  

5. Commitment to safety

A good nurse is one who understands that safety—whether it's the safety of their patients, their coworkers, or themselves—is a critical part of nursing care. When it comes to patients, safety is all-encompassing and considered at every moment and from every angle. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, patient safety and nursing are intimately linked, since nurses are responsible for monitoring patients and providing direct care at the bedside. Nurses must be alert to a patient's condition at all times and act quickly and decisively to prevent negative outcomes like infections, pressure injuries, and falls. Safety-minded nurses are also dedicated to staff safety, which can range from knowing how to de-escalate a violent patient to working to combat staff-on-staff bullying.

6. Strength in problem solving

Every nurse has their own "hacks" for nursing care; in other words, tips and tricks that they've learned over the years to make their jobs easier and patients happier and more comfortable. It might be a trick for making IV insertion easier or go-to strategies for calming an anxious patient pre-surgery. Plus, when nurses innovate at the bedside or spot a problem that needs to be solved, they have a chance to make systemic change within their units, organizations, and beyond—like the nurse who invented the crash cart. 

7. Superb communication skills

Good nurses are also good communicators, which is an essential part of their role on multidisciplinary care teams. Clear and open communication means that everyone on the care team understands their role and tasks, making collaboration possible. It also reduces the chances that someone on the care team will make an error or overlook or "miss" providing needed care. Good communication between nurses and other members of the care team can also result in positive organization-wide outcomes and targets, like shortened length of stay and increased patient satisfaction. Good nurse-to-patient communication is equally important, and there's evidence that communicating well with patients improves care quality.

8. Ability to handle pressure

Nursing is a high-pressure, fast-paced profession where people's health and lives are on the line. That's why good nurses are often the ones who keep a clear head and razor-sharp focus during high-pressure situations. They're consistently able to make quick decisions and perform tasks accurately and without mistakes. The essential results of their calm demeanor: patients stay calm even during the most difficult, frightening, or emergent situations. Nurses prepare for these types of situations with disaster preparedness training, drills, and exercises.

9. Self-awareness  

Good nurses know the importance of taking stock of their own physical, mental, and emotional health as they care for others. That's because nurse burnout and compassion fatigue are issues that can negatively affect things like patient safety, nurse turnover, and medication administration errors. Nurse managers must give nurses the time and support they need to care for and prioritize their wellbeing by encouraging breaks, adequate sleep and time off, appropriate nutrition, and outlets to process the stress of their jobs in a healthy way. It's also why organizations like the American Nurses Association are encouraging them to do so with the program Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ Grand Challenge.

10. Leadership skills

Whether they're staff nurses caring for patients at the bedside or nurse leaders in charge of an entire unit, leadership is an important quality in good nurses. Nurses with leadership qualities can help model best practices, encourage innovation, and champion new initiatives to improve patient care. Research also shows that good nurse leadership is linked with better patient outcomes and higher patient satisfaction.

Recognize an exceptional nurse today


Request a Demo