The health and social care sectors are under more pressure than ever before. The pandemic has created a multitude of challenges and opportunities for nurses in particular. Nursing professionals are now so stressed that mental health is affecting patient care, Covid-delayed appointments are continuing to mount up, and the combination of staff shortages and high workloads are requiring ever greater efforts and efficiencies. On the positive side, the NHS and care providers will work more closely together following Covid-19, opening up whole new types of day-to-day situations and significant changes to ways of working.
Whether you’re thinking of starting a new career in healthcare, or improving your existing nursing abilities and soft skills, the qualities of the best nurses can be built with dedication and commitment. Generate’s contractor management team, who help thousands of health and social care professionals, reveal how skilled nurses provide the best patient care.
5 Skills & Attributes Nurses Can Develop to Improve Patient Care and Career Development
1. Patient Centricity
Whilst much of the general public (and even many in the sector) may believe a caring temperament is a given for nurses, in reality healthcare professionals are motivated by many different things, and empathy is hard to sustain alongside a mammoth workload. In high-stress environments some health workers disassociate from their surroundings, focusing purely on targets and efficiencies, and prioritising speed over quality or immediate safety over long-term prosperity. Supporting thousands of patients over numerous years can make it all too easy to become desensitized or stop appreciating the hospital experience from an unknown, non-clinical perspective.
Patient-first care means truly valuing patients, and putting their needs first, even in high-pressure situations of difficulty and discomfort. The ability to empathise and put yourself in your patient’s shoes is the best approach to truly understanding each individual and their needs. Facilitating better comprehension of patient’s physical and mental health, supporting with their fears and challenges, and gaining patients’ trust to identify potential problems before they happen, this way of working can be the vital difference in a patient’s progress, long-term prospects and even survival.
The post-Covid cohort of nurses may join the NHS workforce with great intentions after the Clap for Carers campaign and rapidly heightened awareness of the importance of healthcare. However, these expectations may not match the reality: a case that is also similar when moving up to different bands of career progression, entering new specialisms or transferring to a different department or new hospital.
From walking 5 miles per shift and lifting several patients per day, to supporting people with serious mental health issues and histories of abuse, the physical and psychological demands on nurses are significantly underestimated. In an average 12-hour shift, nurses demonstrate a balance of physical and emotional stamina that is unique to the profession. Resilience is vital to help nursing professionals remain calm, focused and confident in their ability to perform at their best despite obstacles. Naturally evolving over time, resilience helps nurses face whatever challenge comes their way, and provide the best possible support for patients and colleagues in the most difficult and unexpected of circumstances.
Many underestimate the importance of nurses in advocating for patient care, as well as providing and supporting this care. Speaking up on behalf of patients experiencing abuse, and families worried about children or elderly patients who are unable to communicate themselves, can be just as important in getting the right care as speed and accuracy of treatment. Simply listening to a patient’s fears and questions can empower patients to opt in to life-saving surgery or life-enhancing care, rather than declining care due to embarrassment or misplaced anxiety.
As nurses are constantly receiving and relaying important information, written communication and attention to detail are also vital nursing qualities. The often-undervalued skills of updating and analysing charts, paying attention to hospital discharge paperwork, and asking questions to identify potential allergies or dangers are all too common medical mistakes that mark the difference between high quality patient care and serious consequences.
Although emotional connections aid patient progress, the quality and accuracy of care require a rational approach to solving problems whilst adapting treatments to specific patient needs. In the fast-paced, high-stakes world of hospitals, surgeries and care facilities, nurses must troubleshoot difficult clinical issues quickly and accurately. Nurses may be able to dress wounds in seconds, administer medication or injections swiftly and smoothly, and start an intravenous line as part of second nature, but without the ability to think on your feet, coping with new problems will always be stressful.
Working as part of a team, nursing staff cannot hide from making critical decisions on a regular basis, and those who approach problems by taking the lead when needed – and learning from others – will most hone their critical-thinking and problem-solving abilities. The best professionals will be able to interpret diagnostic results and patient feedback to determine the difference, for example, between a routine ailment and potentially fatal allergic reaction. Whilst critical thinking comes naturally to some, the ability to best solve any complex problem, quickly and for the benefit of patients, can be learned and nurtured with effort and dedication.
With so many emergencies and unique patient challenges facing nurses in an average week, all professionals will make mistakes and see success in ways they could never have anticipated beforehand. However, every experience presents an opportunity to learn. The ability to take a step back, be as objective about yourself and your performance as possible, and understand your strengths and improvement areas, will ensure you are constantly building upon your skills and expertise.
The best self-reflection involves asking yourself honest, sometimes difficult questions, including:
- What went well, and what didn’t go so well?
- What happened that I didn’t expect – and how will I recognise it next time, before it happens?
- What would I do differently?
- What did I learn from this experience?
- What skills and knowledge can I build on from this experience?
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Looking for your next role? Read The 5 Questions You’ll Be Asked in Your Next Nursing Job Interview (And Which Answers to Give).