8 Nursing Skills You Can’t Learn From a Book

5 Ways Travel Nursing Makes You a Better Nurse

By Alana Luna, contributor

Most healthcare professionals acquire the majority of their knowledge in school, but there are some nursing skills that can't be gleaned from a book or in a classroom setting. These on-the-job skills take effort and practice to master, but the rewards are well worth the investment.

1. Time management

With limited hours in the day and a seemingly endless to-do list, smart nurses quickly figure out that success depends on putting a sound plan into place. You may not get a rundown of time management tips in school, but these should help:

  • Track your activities for a day to see how you're currently allotting your time at work.
  • Make a to-do list.
  • Tackle the most important (or most daunting) tasks first.
  • Try to complete one task before starting another.
  • Stop striving for perfection.
  • Concentrate on honing core habits.
  • Learn to delegate.

2. Delegation

Speaking of delegation, this nursing skill can be one of the most difficult for supervisors to fully embrace. The desire for control is natural, but when it leads to exhaustion, incomplete tasks and a constant feeling of being overwhelmed, it's time to outsource some of your responsibilities.

Shift from doing to leading and you not only lighten your own workload, you empower the rest of your team. That's an important step forward for all involved and can lead to smoother, more streamlined operations facility-wide.

3. Teamwork

Even as you delegate, you have to work in tandem with fellow nurses, doctors, CNAs — pretty much everyone who has an impact on your patient is part of your team. In an environment where collaboration and communication can literally mean the different between life and death, there's no room for petty squabbles or personality conflicts to come between you and patient care.

4. Conflict resolution

Even if you excel at teamwork, there's bound to be discord. Any time you bring together differing personalities and add stress, disagreements happen. To cope, experts recommend nurse managers take charge by learning and exhibiting effective conflict management strategies, but all nurses can benefit from a similar approach to help keep the peace:

  • Engage in dialogue.
  • Engage in coaching.
  • Identify potential conflicts.
  • Commit to ongoing education and training.

5. Cultural awareness

Nurses are bound to encounter a wide range of cultures during their shifts, each with its own unique patterns and customs. Understanding those intricacies, or at least the basics, is an essential part of providing superb care. Your attitude around differing cultures, how you convey information and the skills you develop as a result will all impact not just that patient but your career as a whole.

6. The importance of listening

Researchers have found a link between ineffective communication and medical errors. Learn to practice active listening — actually concentrating on and comprehending what's being said — and engaging both patients and coworkers to keep misunderstandings and mistakes to a minimum.

7. Critical thinking

Critical thinking and problem-solving go hand in hand, and both are crucial in clinical settings. By actively processing and analyzing situations, even those that seem routine or mundane, nurses gain a more in-depth understanding of patient status and can provide a better standard of care.

As a nursing skill, critical thinking often has six parts:

  • Interpretation
  • Analysis
  • Evaluation
  • Inference
  • Explanation
  • Self-regulation

8. Self-care

The negative effects of stress are recognized by no less an authority than the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which lists the common signs of stress as:

  • Headaches
  • Low energy
  • Stomach and digestive issues
  • Aches and pains
  • Muscle tensions
  • Insomnia

NAMI recommends a regular self-care routine that includes daily exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, abstinence from alcohol and drugs and relaxation techniques. Even something as simple as 20 minutes of deep breathing or meditation paired with a lunch of whole grains, lean protein and vegetables can help you recharge.

Mental habits such as focusing on the positive, avoiding guilt and sharing your burdens with others who understand the pressure and may have their own suggestions for picking up nursing skills could also help you find your footing.

Finally, don't be afraid to have sympathy for the plight of others. A good nurse identifies with their patients and all they're going through without internalizing that pain to the point of self-detriment. Find that balance and you're well on your way.


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