One of the questions I get a lot especially from new nurses involves the essential nursing skills they need to be a successful nurse.

After thinking about it I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a handful of fundamental nursing skills every nurse should have (or strive to have) for a successful career.

These fundamental nursing skills help ensure that you’re providing the best care possible.

*Disclosure: This article on the skills of a nurse may contain affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. For more info, please see my disclaimer.

Here’s My List of Basic Nursing Skills You Need:

The Essential Skills for New Nurses Summary Video

This is a pretty exhaustive list so you shouldn’t let it overwhelm you.

Like with everything else, there are going to be items on this list that you’ll be really competent in. At the same time, you’re going to see skills you’re going to struggle with and have to work really hard on.

That’s completely normal. Just take it one nursing skill at a time.

1. Teamwork

Nurses never work by themselves. It’s always in coordination with other nurses, doctors, and other multidisciplinary team members (ex dietitian, respiratory therapist, and so forth).

Each member plays a critical role in taking care of the patient. For those reasons, teamwork is a must-have nursing skill set.

I wish I could say I’ve never met or worked with a nurse who was a bad team player, but unfortunately, I have. Those nurses were usually difficult to work with which unfortunately made delivering exceptional care to the patients they were assigned to harder than it needed to be.

To deliver the best possible care and to ensure patient safety nurses need to be able to work as a team with other members of the treatment team.

2. Compassion and Empathy

Compassion and empathy are at the core of nursing. Compassion is having sympathy or concern for one’s suffering.

Empathy is the understanding of your patient’s suffering. Almost like putting yourself in their shoes.

Compassion and empathy are important when you’re giving patient care because in a lot of ways you’re providing emotional support to that patient.

3. Good Communication

Good communication is a must for nurses.

You need to be able to communicate effectively with your coworkers and other members of the multidisciplinary team.

Another often missed aspect of nursing communication (and why good communication is so important) is patient instructions and teaching.

Nurses do a lot of patient teaching. As a nurse, you’ll teach patients how to manage their diabetes. You’ll teach them how to take medications appropriately. In short, you’re giving instructions that have life and death consequences.

To make communicating even more difficult you’re going to be dealing with patients with low health literacy.

To say that good communication is important for nurses is an understatement, it is essential to the core of what nurses do.

Communication Skills Training: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Social Intelligence, Presentation, Persuasion and Public Speaking
A good book on improving your communication skills. It will also help with improving your emotional intelligence.

Related Article: How to Give Constructive Feedback in Nursing

4. Time-Management Skills

As a nurse, you need to have good time-management skills. Nurses are constantly tasked to do many things and wear many hats.

I know what you’re thinking “I don’t do med-surg nursing so it’s not important for me.

Even if you’re not working in med-surge time management is an essential nursing trait.

Med-surg is not the only nursing field that requires good time-management skills.

15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management:
Time management is so important in the nursing profession. Here's the secret to managing time effectively used by some of the most successful people in their respective field.

Time Management Skill is Needed in All Nursing Specialities

One of the specialties I’ve worked in is GI nursing. Even if you’ve never worked as a GI Nurse/Endoscopy Nurse you probably still know that it’s nothing like med-surg.

What you might not know is that there’s a lot of time management skills that’s needed, it just looks differently as a GI Nurse than as a Med-Surg Nurse.

5. Pay Attention to Detail

Nurses make critical decisions each day that affects people’s lives.

From the instructions we give that can be very nuanced, to the IV drip we’re titrating misreading a number can be the difference between life and death.

It’s safe to say attention to detail is not optional.

6. Professionalism

A Good Nurse is a professional nurse. When you’re a professional nurse, you…

  • Are responsive
  • Are humble and good-natured to patients and colleagues
  • Do quality work
  • Are helpful to others
  • Take pride in your work

Being a professional in your work reflects well on your personal nurse brand and the profession of nursing.

Professionalism: Skills for Workplace Success
A good resource for learning professional skills in the workplace.

7. Critical Thinking Skills

Remember the exam questions you had to answer in nursing school. The nursing profession doesn’t always deal in black and white.

Actually, I think it’s safe to say they rarely deal in black and white. Much of the work we do is riddled in grey areas.

When given a problem there are multiple right answers, but we’re tasked to pick the most correct response.

Many times that requires thinking outside the box.

8. Physical Strength and Stamina

Have you heard “no lift facility?”

Now that you’re done laughing the truth of the matter is many nursing jobs especially the hospital direct patient care nursing jobs are very labor-intensive.

You’re on your feet a lot. You’re catching patients that are falling. All of this requires physical strength and Stamina.

9. Ability to Manage Stress

Nurses are constantly in stressful environments and situations.

A nurse that can’t find a way to manage the stress of their job will find themselves dealing with nurse burnout.

The Importance of Managing Stress
While we’re on the subject of managing stress I do want to emphasize how important it is as nurses to manage stress.

As nurses when we don’t get a handle on the work-related stress we go through it puts us at risk for getting nursing burnout.

If you don’t know nurse burnout is a big deal. I wrote an article about nurse burnout. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Related Article: 5 Stress Management Tips for Nurses

10. Ethics

Nurses should be ethical in their approach to their work.

As the most trusted profession in the United States, the public and our patients have a high standard for nursing conduct (source).

Because of that, we’re called to practice ethically.

11. Adaptability

Healthcare is forever changing. New research continues to change practices that were once considered the gold standard.

One of the most important basic nursing skill is the ability to adapt to those changes.

12. Commitment to Career Development

infographic on essential nursing skills

Remember when I said health care is forever changing?

It is.

Good nurses don’t fight the change but embrace it. One of the ways to embrace that change is to focus on developing your career as a nurse.

This could be keeping up to date on the current best practice. Or it could be going back and getting your graduate degree in nursing.

13. Ability to Delegate

Nurses need to master the art of delegation. There’s so much to do, and nurses can’t do it by themselves.

Therefore, nurses need to know when to delegate and how to delegate.

You need to know when to delegate a task to a nurse aid. You need to know when to delegate work to another nurse.

14. Prioritization

Similar to what I mentioned above there’s too much to do and so little time.

You can’t just not do them, they all have to get done. The question isn’t which one can I not do.


The problem is which one should I do first. That’s where good prioritization skills come in handy. Because when presented between two patients…

  • One is complaining about acute ankle pains
  • While another patient with a history of diabetes is all of a sudden very confused.

Prioritization will help you figure out which patient you should see first.

15. Strong

This is going to sound very cliché, but I thought it was very appropriate.

Nurses at times can be the punching bags for patients, doctors, and administration.

When you’re making a phone call to a doctor to report a problem with a patient, and they’re yelling at you for doing your job…you have to remain strong.

When family members start yelling at you because they’re frustrated with what’s going on with they’re loved one…you have to stay strong.

Related: How to Deal with Difficult Patients


A nurse holding a stethoscope and a paper heart.

These are just some of the essential nursing skills new nurses need to strive to have.

Don’t be concerned if you don’t have all these skills yet.

Some of these fundamental nursing skills will be easier and come more natural to some nurses than others.

Let’s recap…

Related Articles on Essential Nursing Skills

  1. Teamwork
  2. Compassion and Empathy
  3. Good Communication
  4. Time-Management Skills
  5. Pay Attention to Detail
  6. Professionalism
  7. Critical Thinking Skills
  8. Physical Strength and Stamina
  9. Ability to Manage Stress
  10. Ethics
  11. Adaptability
  12. Commitment to Career Development
  13. Ability to Delegate
  14. Prioritization
  15. Strong

What essential nursing skills are you working on?


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