8 Essential Characteristics of a Good Nurse

As this is Nurse’s Week, I’ve been thinking about a few different posts I’d like to write in honor of my profession & the many wonderful nurses I know.  While driving around town running errands today, I started thinking about what I consider to be some of the most essential components of a good nurse & decided this would be a good way to start off my blog posts in honor of this special week.nurse pic

*Disclaimer: Obviously, these are all MY OPINION, so feel free to take them with a grain of salt, so to speak.  But these are all based on my (almost) four years of nursing experience.  Also this list is most applicable to HOSPITAL nurses as that is the only type of nursing I have actually done thus far in my career.  (I was exposed to various other forms of nursing as a student, but as far as an actual job as an RN, I’ve only done inpatient nursing.)  I daresay many of these are applicable to all forms of nursing, but in general the list was written with inpatient hospital nursing in mind.

Furthermore, I am by no means 100% faithful to all of these points all the time.  I’m as human as everyone else, naturally.  But these are things I sincerely try to live up to as much as I can because I know they are (some of) the things that make a good nurse, & as with anything else I do, I want to be the best nurse I can be.

These are in no particular order.nursing humor

  1. Organized: Organization is key to being a competent nurse. The great thing is that everyone’s idea of organization can be quite different.  My report sheet & routine don’t look like everyone else’s, just as everyone else’s report sheet & routine don’t look like mine.  And that is just fine.  The point is that you find a system that works well for YOU.  I strongly encourage new grad nurses to get started on this very early in your career or otherwise you’ll always be a few steps behind.  As nurses we are responsible for monitoring vital signs, lab results, diagnostic test results, the mental status of our patients, & myriad other things, not to mention keeping up with & double-checking doctor’s orders, again among other things.  Obviously none of this can be done efficiently without a good organization system.  Show me a disorganized nurse & you’ll show me someone who is probably displeased with her job & who drives her coworkers (& quite possibly her patients) crazy . . . I’ll leave it at that.  P.S. Here’s my report sheet, in case you need something to help you out: Nursing Report Sheet
  2. Adaptable/flexible: One of the first things I learned about nursing, thankfully while still a student, is that being a nurse requires you to be extremely adaptable & flexible. Not only do patients’ conditions change constantly, but so do hospital policies, routines, & equipment.  Just when you think you’re getting up to speed, something will change.  Trust me.  It is just the nature of the healthcare field.  There is no question that the constant change in healthcare contributes to the high stress level nurses experience, so if you don’t handle change well, you will probably be a dissatisfied, easily burnt out nurse.change quote
  3. Willing to learn: Following right along with the above point, as nurses we are constantly asked to learn new things. Whether it’s new equipment, a new computer system, or a new medication, there is ALWAYS something new to learn.  While this can be frustrating at times, it’s also one of the things that (to me) makes nursing fun.  I for one could never be satisfied working in a stale, unchanging environment.  As someone who has always loved learning, the very dynamic nature of nursing is just one of the many things that I believe makes this such a fulfilling career for me.learning is work
  4. Assertive: This is one that hasn’t always come naturally to me but that I’m pleased to say I picked up on fairly quickly (I like to think so anyway). Being a nurse means you will inevitably deal with angry patients, disgruntled physicians, rude family members, inefficient hospital systems, & all manner of frustrating things.  Most nurses, I’ve found, are naturally kind people who long to please others & make others happy.  Considering the caring nature of this profession, that is logical.  However, we must strive to never allow our desire to help & please others to turn us in to doormats (partially because that inevitably leads to burn out).  As nurses, we have to advocate for our patients, many of whom cannot or will not speak for themselves.  I’ve found that being assertive with doctors, patients, families, management, etc is the best way to both advocate for my patients & retain my own mental sanity.  It’s not always easy, for sure, but clearly nursing ain’t a career for the faint of heart.  (Can I get an “Amen”?!)assertive
  5. Thick skin: Ooh, here’s another one that definitely didn’t come naturally to me. Trust me, I have more than once cried when a patient, family member, or doctor spoke harshly to me, usually in the bathroom or at the nurse’s station after the fact.  But slowly I am learning to be a bit more thick-skinned.  You have to or you will not survive in this profession.  If you’re a soft-hearted new grad like I once was & wondering how you’ll ever learn this skill, trust me, it will come with time & experience.  I imagine it’s kind of like being a parent: you can’t take every temper tantrum personally & you have to pick your battles or you’ll lose your mind.  Additionally I’ve found that if I make it obvious to “testy” patients & family members that I’m not really ruffled by their behavior, quite often they calm down very quickly.thick skin tender heart
  6. Empathetic: Not disregarding the above point, it pretty much goes without saying that an essential characteristic of a good nurse is empathy. There’s a fine line between having thick enough skin to survive in this field while also maintaining an empathetic heart.  And it’s not an easy line to walk sometimes, trust me.  But it can be done.  Perhaps one of the greatest things I learned in nursing school is that people who are hurting do NOT actually want you to provide them with a solution to their problems.  What they really want is someone to listen to their story & validate their pain & suffering.  This can be as simple as listening with an open mind & saying “I’m sorry, I know this has been difficult for you.”  (As I’ve found, this is a great skill to learn for your personal life as well.)  As nurses, we must also remember that our empathy needs to extend not only to our patients & their families but also to our coworkers & even ourselves.  None of us is perfect & we have to learn to forgive ourselves for not always being the perfect “angels of mercy” we strive to be.empathy
  7. Resilient: This is one I’ve come to appreciate more the longer I’ve been a nurse. Being resilient basically means you’re able to recover & bounce back from the hard times.  As nurses, we witness all kinds of terrifying events that inevitably leave some scars on our psyche.  Because of this it’s inevitable that we’re going to have some bad days/nights as nurses.  It just can’t be avoided.  In order to recover from the bad shifts, we have to have outlets that allow us to mentally recuperate.  For me this comes mostly in the form of music, writing, & of course venting with my fellow nurses.  I also volunteer with a local hospice group (not as a nurse, just as a regular volunteer) which I’ve also found brings me a lot of joy.  Additionally, I see a therapist once a month to work on my innate anxiety issues.  Even though much of my anxiety has very little, if anything, to do with my career, I still find it helpful in handling the inevitable stress of working in the healthcare field.resilient
  8. A warped sense of humor: When one patient is screaming for pain meds, another just pooped all over the floor, the monitor tech is calling to say your third patient had a run of V Tach, & your admission just arrived, you better have a warped sense of humor or you’re going to run out of the building in tears. I’m serious.  This is something I didn’t totally appreciate as a new grad, as most new grads probably don’t.  You just can’t know the insanity of being a nurse until you’ve done it.  The things we laugh at would probably make the average person cringe, but then again the average person isn’t a nurse. And if you don’t learn to find the humor in the crazy things we see & deal with on a daily basis, you won’t survive in this field.  It’s as simple as that.sense of humor nursing

If you’re reading this & you’re considering entering the nursing profession, I hope you’ll take this post seriously.  If you don’t feel that you possess any of the above characteristics, frankly I’d suggest going into another field.  Naturally none of us is born with all of these characteristics or possesses all of them 100% of the time because, as I said, we’re all human.  All I can say is I’m so thankful to have worked with so many wonderful nurses over the past four years who have demonstrated these characteristics to me & helped me develop them as well.  If you’re one of those nurses, or one of the many fabulous nursing professors & clinical instructors I was blessed to learn from, & you’re reading this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.thank you