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7 qualities define what makes a good nurse

It’s clear many of us want to know exactly which characteristics make a good nurse, or even a great nurse.

Defined as qualities, traits, abilities, talents, strengths, values, beliefs or morals — characteristics can be personal or professional.

I believe it’s a combination of both of those types of characteristics that we find in good nurses, and these seven qualities stand out:

  1. Being a person who deserves a high level of respect. Our kindness, fairness, caring, trustworthiness, emotional stability, empathy and compassion are part of who we are as people on a personal level and serve us well as nurses.
  2. Exhibiting strong communication skills that help us communicate with patients and colleagues, sometimes at their worst life moments.
  3. Effectively using our critical-thinking skills to solve and identify problems to improve protocols and patient care.
  4. Our attention to detail, which helps us follow detailed orders from colleagues and individualize each patient’s care.
  5. Time management and delegation skills help us keep up with patient care responsibilities throughout our shifts.
  6. Our ability to be flexible and adapt to changing scenarios and situations on the fly.
  7. Being a team player that works fluidly with patients, families and interdisciplinary healthcare teams every step of the way.

We develop and strengthen all of the skills above through our years of education, training and practice.

Bedside nurses embody what makes a good nurse

For nearly two decades, the American public has ranked nurses No. 1 in Gallup polls as the most admired, ethical and trusted profession.

“More than four in five Americans (84%) again rate the honesty and ethical standards of nurses as ‘very high’ or ‘high,’ earning them the top spot among a diverse list of professions for the 17th consecutive year,” Gallup reported again in December.

What higher words of praise can all your years of working with patients and their families translate into than “honest and ethical?”

We all value the great nurse leaders whose many contributions are moving the nursing profession and healthcare forward. We’re proud of the seats they have at our nation’s healthcare planning and decision-making tables.

But the nurses who work on the front lines of patient care are the ones who interact with patients the most and are who we think of when we answer the question about what makes a good nurse.

Those nurses constantly work toward professional licensure, certifications, advanced degrees, and more extensive training and clinical expertise to improve patient care.

Bedside nurses are the source of nursing’s outstanding Gallup poll results, and continue to earn the admiration and praise of patients across America. They truly embody what makes a good nurse.

It’s not just the polls that demonstrate how highly regarded we are, or how much we are admired. Similar messages often come from:

  • Patient satisfaction surveys
  • Letters from grateful patients
  • Commendations from physicians and other healthcare colleagues
  • Various sources in anecdotal stories

And who among us hasn’t known nursing students who said they chose nursing because of a nurse they admired?

Maintaining such a position of esteem in the minds and hearts of Americans for so many years is proof positive that we are good at what we do.

We all have a desire to help

We are at the center of every healthcare setting with a generosity of spirit, a special sensitivity and a desire to help, comfort and provide care.

We are privileged to be allowed into patients’ lives in the most personal ways at the most important times.

We’re the ones patients talk with and ask for and remember after discharge, and the ones patients vote for in polls and surveys and write letters of gratitude about.

When deciding on nursing as a career, we didn’t think about letters of appreciation, survey statistics or Gallup poll results.

We choose nursing because we want to be part of something important, challenging and rewarding. Something we knew we would be good at and something that will bring us fulfillment and fuel us for the work we will be doing the rest of our lives.

It is these good characteristics that make a good nurse, and what many might describe as great.


Take these courses to learn what makes a good nurse:

Novice to Expert: Through the Stages to Success in Nursing
(1 contact hr)
Nursing competency develops over time — the product of lessons learned from wide-ranging experiences. As the profession evolves, competency in a rapidly changing healthcare environment remains a key component of excellent nursing care. Competency gives nurses confidence to care for their patients. This module addresses how expertise develops from novice to expert and the importance of supporting one another with this challenging journey, including Patricia Benner’s five stages of moving from novice to expert.

Go Get Your BSN: You Can Make It Happen!
(1 contact hr)
Everything is changing: technology, healthcare, legislation, policies, … nursing. Advance your career forward by pursuing your next degree! Are you debating about whether you could get your BSN? With the 2020 goal of 80% of nurses holding a bachelor’s degree, where do we stand? How have we done? What does research say about the educational levels of nurses in regard to patient outcomes? What information do you need to consider helping you pursue your BSN and to become a part of the 80%? Become informed and motivated with this webinar!

RN to BSN: Aligning Your Personality Characteristics With Your Career Goals
(1 contact hr)
With the recommendation that 80% of nurses hold a bachelor’s degree by 2020, many RN’s may be considering advancing their education. Have you considered what areas within nursing you might like to explore? Might certain personality characteristics help you enjoy some nursing specialties more than others? Is your dream to work in management, administration, education or research? Is your desire to avoid specific job duties such as management? Try to align your strengths and personality characteristics with a nursing role you might enjoy! Perhaps there is an area of nursing you haven’t considered as a possibility for you. As you decide to further your education, an analysis of research and individual personality characteristics may help you align your goals within nursing areas you might enjoy the most.

By | 2019-03-05T21:08:26+00:00 March 4th, 2019|Categories: Nursing careers and jobs, Nursing education|5 Comments

About the Author:

Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN
Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, is a former senior vice president and CNE at OnCourse Learning, where she led nursing programs and initiatives. She continues to write and act as a consultant for Nurse.com. Before joining the company in 1998, Eileen was employed by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York, where she held a number of leadership positions in nursing and hospital administration, including chief nurse at two of the system’s member hospitals. She holds a BSN and an MSN in administration, and is a graduate fellow of the Johnson & Johnson University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Nurse Executives program. She also is a board member and past president of the New Jersey League for Nursing, a constituent league of the National League for Nursing.

5 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Rizza Grands March 6, 2019 at 5:12 am - Reply

    Choosing a profession relating to health or medical career is a rewarding job but, also a tough one. It is important to know where you are passionate and pursue that dream of yours! Thank you for sharing this helpful information.

  2. Avatar
    Folayemi M Adesola March 14, 2019 at 10:14 pm - Reply

    A good nurse is patient, caring,dedicated to duty and be an advocate for the patient.

  3. Avatar
    Egbere, Theophilus Ifebunachi April 7, 2019 at 6:55 am - Reply

    A good nurse is compassionate, empathic, honest, confident, respectful, reliable and responsible. He/she give the same care to clients as he/she would wish for him/herself and loved ones while being conscious of the individual needs of clients. A good nurse strives for excellence at all times: complete any given task with high levels of accuracy, diligence and pay attention to every details of his/her clients. Given that nursing job is inherently stressful, a good nurse should have the ability to manage stress and be in control at all times. He should have good leadership skills and delegates appropriately. I will stop by saying “there’s no good nurse without good communication skills”.

  4. Avatar
    Liz Hudson August 19, 2019 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    That’s interesting that 84% of the American public has rated the ethical standards of nurses to be high. My close friend is a nurse, and she is one of the most caring people I know. I’m glad that nurses are receiving the appreciation that they deserve.

  5. Avatar
    Sandra Adlawon September 12, 2019 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    Amazing article! Apart from critical thinking skills, nurses need to be compassionate and trustworthy. Also, a high degree of emotional stability and endurance, what with their long working hours in high pressure situations.

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