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13 Qualities of a Good Nurse: Leadership & Personality Characteristics

What Makes Someone a Good Nurse?

As the nation’s largest healthcare profession, registered nurses (RNs) are showing no signs of slowing down—in terms of projected job growth, influence, and leadership demand. Given the significant projections of RNs’ national and global growth, understanding the qualities of a good nurse is invaluable to hospitals and health systems aiming to attract and retain the best nursing talent.

As new nurses are entering the workforce, identifying and encouraging specific nursing qualities will help hospitals and health systems recognize strong nursing candidates for hire and understand which current nurses on staff would make great leaders. With an estimated 2.86 million RNs in the U.S., it’s helpful to consider these 13 qualities of a good nurse that will help them be successful in navigating and thriving in today’s fast paced and everchanging healthcare landscape.

1. Caring

While it may seem like a given, most people assume that all nurses enter the field because “caring” is one of their leading qualities—but this shouldn’t necessarily be an assumed nursing characteristic. Many nurses who choose the nursing career path prioritize job security, are interested in using it as a starting point for another career, or have a lack of alternative ideas/options.

But as a nursing quality, caring makes all the difference to patients. A nurse showing a natural tendency to truly care about how their patients feel (and in turn, how well they perform their job) will have a significant impact on their success in the nursing field, which makes caring a key indicator of a nurse’s success.

2. Communication Skills

Strong communication skills are critical characteristics of a nurse. A nurse’s role relies on the ability to effectively communicate with other nurses, physicians, disciplines across other units, patients, and their families.

Without the ability to interpret and convey communication correctly, medical errors are more likely to occur, patients often feel neglected or misinformed, and the entire unit will feel the impact. By prioritizing and practicing communication skills, nurses will provide safer care and benefit their patients, their unit, and the entire hospital/health system—not to mention, their long-term career.

3. Empathy

With nurses caring for perhaps thousands of patients throughout their careers, it can be all too easy to become desensitized or remember what it was like to be a “nonclinical” person. A characteristic of a good nurse is one that shows empathy to each patient, making a true effort to put themselves in their patients’ shoes.

By practicing empathy, nurses are more likely to treat their patients as “people” and focus on a person-centered care approach, rather than strictly following routine guidelines. When patients are fortunate enough to encounter these characteristics of a good nurse, it makes their care experience that much better.

4. Attention to Detail

Nurses are undoubtedly under immense pressure as they balance receiving orders from physicians with using their own knowledge skills and critical judgement to provide the highest quality patient care. Add to this combination caring for multiple patients simultaneously, and the risk for human error can seem almost inevitable.

A good nurse knows the stakes are high and that unlike in most other industries, they’re responsible for peoples’ well being and more importantly—their lives. Having a strong attention to detail is one of the nurse personality traits that can easily and quickly determine how successful they’ll be in their role.

5. Problem Solving Skills

While clinical knowledge and training is taught throughout a nurse’s education, on the job training is the most effective way to help shape a nurse’s problem solving skills. And although years of experience can help hone this skill, some naturally possess better problem-solving skills as part of their qualities and traits of a nurse.

Problem solving skills are essential to nursing, as nurses generally have the most one-on-one time with patients and are often responsible for much of the decision-making related to their care. Even seemingly small decisions can have major impacts and cause adverse patient outcomes if incorrectly made.

6. Stamina

The physical demand on nurses is perhaps one of the most underestimated aspects of their careers. Within one shift, a nurse lifts an average of 1.8 tons (roughly the weight of a hippo) with patient lifting and adjusting. Additionally, studies have found that nurses walk an average of 4-5 miles per shift.

In an average 12-hour shift, nurses exercise a unique balance of physical and emotional stamina that few other industries encounter. Effectively managing this skill is what makes a great nurse. This extremely important skill impacts nurses, their coworkers, and of course, the patients. Having sufficient stamina is one of the most important qualities of a great nurse.

7. Sense of Humor

To derive satisfaction from such a mentally and physically exhausting career, nurses that can find time for a laugh are typically more successful in their roles. Because nurses encounter varying degrees of high-stress situations, taking the opportunity to enjoy the downtime and incorporate a lighthearted attitude can provide a sense of stress relief beyond measure.

Having a good sense of humor also helps spread positivity to other nurses, patients, and their families. A good sense of humor is not only a characteristic of a nurse leader, but reminds patients and their families that “nurses are people, too” and ultimately increases their trust and openness with sharing feedback and concerns. In especially stressful times, patients and their family members are appreciative of any efforts (no matter how small) to help bring a bit of cheer.

8. Commitment to Patient Advocacy

This concept is the foundational core tenet of healthcare from the Hippocratic Oath to nearly every hospital’s mission statement in one phrase or another: keep patients safe, deliver the highest quality of care. In other words, be an advocate for patients, with special attention on their overall safety.

As one of the leading qualities of a nurse leader, a great nurse understands that patient advocacy is a mindset that must be practiced every day, with every patient, throughout every stage of the care continuum. Many patients enter a hospital or healthcare setting disoriented, confused, and unable to truly “speak up” and advocate for their safety. Having a nurse that practices with a strong passion for patient advocacy will ensure they’re always fighting for the very best care for their patients.

9. Willingness to Learn

With technological improvements and breakthrough studies in science, the healthcare industry (and healthcare workers) must prove to be successfully adaptive to provide the highest quality patient care possible. Nurses spend more bedside time with patients than any other role in healthcare and their willingness to learn and put new knowledge into practice is one of the leading traits of a good nurse.

Improvements in education approaches (e.g., multidisciplinary training, personalized learning, etc.) can help foster successful learning environments, but a good nurse must possess a natural willingness to learn for them to be truly beneficial. This important skill applies to nurses of all ages, throughout every stage of their career, from recent graduates to the highly experienced.

10. Critical Thinking

While having a strong willingness to learn is an important skill in a good nurse, putting that knowledge into successful practice requires an ability to think critically—especially in high-stress situations. A nurse with highly functioning critical thinking skills is one of the most important characteristics of a professional nurse.

After years of education and training, the ability to apply clinical guidelines and best practices on the floor depends on a nurse’s ability to think critically, which is quickly noticed (either positively or negatively) by leadership, other nurses, and ultimately, patients. While this skill can be improved over time, it’s often something that comes more naturally to some nurses than others.

11. Time Management

Balancing multiple patients, stressful care settings, and competing priorities is no small feat during a 12-hour shift. Having the ability to implement effective time management is a key personality trait for nursing, as is being able to concentrate on the most critical issues first, which isn’t necessarily the patient/family that’s demanding the most.

Setting time aside for selfcare is also a crucial component to time management. Refusing to take a quick break or regroup during an especially intense 12-hour shift won’t benefit anyone involved in the care process.

12. Leadership

While most nurses approach their careers with patient care in mind, many will unexpectedly transition into leadership roles. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for this promotion to arrive without adequate training, development opportunities, or sufficient support/mentorship.

A quality of a good nurse that will become more and more valuable in the growing nursing field is the ability to successfully lead. However, if a nurse manager recognizes that their role isn’t perhaps the right fit, knowing when/how to voice that concern is equally as admirable as thriving in the role. Exercising leadership skills in any role/level of the organization shows a willingness to grow and adapt at one’s own pace. Mentorships from nursing leaders can also teach invaluable lessons on how to become a great nurse.

13. Experience

It’s important to note that as veteran nurses leave the healthcare industry and begin retirement, they’re taking with them years of experience and knowledge that cannot be quickly replaced. As nursing leaders work to bring new nurses in the door, most available candidates are predominantly new graduate nurses—a stark contrast to their predecessors in terms of experience and the many patient care skills and knowledge that can only come with time and practice.

By engaging with new nurses to instill an expectation of continuous learning, while creating a positive environment for them to learn from experienced nurses (without fear of judgement), nursing leaders will set new nurses up for success—benefiting their careers, the organization, and most importantly their patients.

How Relias Can Help

As the national leader in holistic healthcare assessments, Relias Assessments empowers nursing leaders to leverage assessments to make informed hiring and placement decisions thereby helping them achieve better long-term nurse success, satisfaction, and retention. Assessment data helps nursing leaders identify developmental areas, continuously measure competencies, and cultivate future leaders.

Additionally, CE Direct (known for its reputation as the leading provider in continuing education) offers a wealth of knowledge to nursing leaders on management and leadership education, including:

  • 100+ courses specific to management and leadership training for nurses, such as Developing Your Leadership Potential and Coaching: An Essential Skill for Nurses.
  • Certification Review courses on nursing’s most popular topics to help nurse managers self-prepare for certification exams, prepare for recertification, and earn CE hours while improving knowledge.
  • Focused CE Series on Nursing Preceptor Specialty Practice to maximize nurses’ knowledge in preceptoring. Topics include boundaries between preceptor and preceptee, critical thinking, time management, evaluation of competency, goal-writing, constructive feedback, patient/family engagement, HCAHPS, NDNQI, and more.

15 Behavioral Interview Questions for Nurse Candidates

Download a guide containing 15 examples of behavioral interview questions to identify those great nurses who possess essential characteristics and skills, including communication, empathy, problem-solving, resilience, and patient-safety-mindedness.

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