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7 Must-Have Nursing Skills for Night Shift Nurses

night shift nursing skills

By Sarah Stasik, Contributor

Shantay Carter, RN, author and founder of Women of Integrity, Inc., provides a list of seven skills night shift nurses need to succeed long-term. From critical thinking and communication skills to the ability to handle autonomy, Carter's list helps RNs understand if they have the right traits to treat patients or work a hospital ward after dark.

Check out Carter's list of seven skills below, and if you pass muster, visit to find night shift nurse jobs across the country.

7 nursing skills required for the night shift

Shantay Carter works to help other nurses and women reach their goals, and she provides seven night shift nursing skills you need to work on if you want to see success in a late shift role.

1. Critical thinking nursing skills

"Night shift nurses need good critical thinking skills," says Carter, and the Rasmussen College senior dean of nursing agrees.

Georgia Vest, DNP, RN, says nurses are constantly faced with decision-making situations, and what they decide impacts patient outcomes. This is especially true of night shift nurses, who may not have a full clinical team on hand to consult with. RNs in these roles must be able to quickly analyze the situation and make layered decisions that include:

  • Whether they can make a care call on their own or need to get in touch with an on-call doctor
  • What the care call should be
  • How to best implement the decision

All of that requires above-board critical thinking skills.

2. Ability to work with others

That's not to say that night shift nurses are flying completely solo. Carter points out that RNs working these shifts must be able to work as a team with other providers and facility staff. Night shift RNs regularly interact with other nurses, medical support staff and doctors. They may even need to be able to work well with ancillary staff such as maintenance personnel, who sometimes do more of their work during the evening.

3. Self-directed

At the same time, Carter says "the ability to work autonomously is also an important night shift nursing skill."

This is actually a requirement that many RNs see as a benefit of the late shift. While hospitals designate a charge nurse for every shift, RNs may still be able to structure their own shifts and make rounds on their own terms, keeping quality of patient care in mind, of course. Pam Richardson, BSN, RN, notes that the lack of busyness can actually increase patient care because nurses may be able to "let their guard down" and work more personally with patients.

Richardson does point out that one downside of this autonomy is that someone has to make the call about phoning a provider in the middle of the night for medication orders or other issues. "Nobody wants to make that midnight call," says Richardson.

4. Excellent assessment skills

That's one reason night shift nursing skills should include excellent assessment capability. Nurses must be able to assess a situation quickly, discarding inappropriate or less appropriate options and deciding firmly on the right course of action. And if that action means calling a doctor at midnight, the RN has to stand behind it.

Nurses can help keep their assessment skills sharp by protecting their own mental capacity and energy levels during the night shift. Some tips for doing so over long night hours include sticking to regular schedules, working night shifts several days in a row to promote better sleep habits and drinking enough water to stay hydrated.

5. Open to change

Night shift nurses can't afford to be stuck in their own ways because you never know what the after-hours shift is going to bring. Being open to change lets night shift RNs pick up wherever the day shift left off with each patient, but it also lets RNs move seamlessly between facilities and shift times and days — and that can help you boost your overall income.

6. Great IV skills

IV skills are an important component of many RN jobs, but night shift nursing in a hospital environment often requires you to be great with IVs, says Carter. You may be called upon to handle IV insertion in less-than-desirable circumstances, especially in environments such as the emergency room or ICU, and night shift nurses don't always have a line of backup professionals who can jump in when a vein proves to be stubborn.

It's not just the insertion of an IV, either. Night shift nurses must be adept at monitoring intravenous medications and fluids and assessing sites to reduce potential complications. If something is wrong with an IV, patients can't always afford to wait until morning to have it addressed.

7. Excellent communication skills

Finally, Carter ends her list of night shift nurse skill requirements with communication skills, which is a must for all RNs. But those on the late rotation need to be able to communicate clearly and quickly, even when they're very tired or are speaking to someone who is not fully awake (such as a provider who answers a call at midnight) or who is under stress (such as a patient coming into the ER in the wee hours).

Written communication is important too. Night shift nurses must be able to leave well-documented narrative notes to ensure the day shift can pick up with patient care without misunderstandings or missing important facts.

Night shift nursing can be a rewarding option for RNs who work best in the evening hours or want to leave their days open for other obligations. Working on the seven skills above helps you provide quality patient care and become a valuable member of the off-hours team in any healthcare environment.

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