7 qualities define what makes a good nurse

By | 2021-02-17T12:31:05-05:00 March 4th, 2019|14 Comments

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.

Let us help you get started on your next educational journey.

what makes a good nurse




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About the Author:

Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN
Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, 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 (now Northwell Health System) where she held a number of leadership positions in nursing and hospital administration, including chief nurse at two of their System hospitals. She holds a BSN and an MSN in nursing administration and is a graduate fellow of the Johnson & Johnson University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Nurse Executives program. A former board member and past president of the New Jersey League for Nursing, a constituent league of the National League for Nursing, Eileen currently is a member of the Adelphi University, College of Nursing and Public Health Advisory Board.


  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.

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    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.

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    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”.

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      Barbara Moss May 29, 2020 at 8:40 pm - Reply

      I have spent my entire life in nursing from the age of 20 and now I’m on 55 I’ve seen nursing change so much I have also seen nurses change so much I never intended to have a nursing career I always just like taking care of people I never expected to be a supervisor or well-respected nurse by my peers I was just doing what may be happy which was taking care of people

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    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.

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    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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    Carol Wood September 30, 2019 at 7:49 am - Reply

    According to my experience in the nursing field. 4 most important qualities are Communication, Thinking, Patience, and Sacrifice

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    CHRISTINE A. SMITH September 30, 2019 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    Nurses are the most trusted people, the backbone and blood in healthcare. . Without nurses, the healthcare industry will never survive. An optimal patient outcome and high quality patient care are the byproducts of a nurse’s compassion, empathy, critical thinking, and communication skills. To my fellow colleagues , I commend you for all your hard work and sacrifices!!!!!!!!

    Christine A. Smith, MSN,RN,CLNC

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    JW Weems LVN April 10, 2020 at 3:06 am - Reply

    Those who can do……
    Those who cannot teach.

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    Roxanne Hartz RN, BSN June 9, 2020 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    Wow. Reading the comments i feel honored to be in this profession. I chose nursing, however, the BSN program chose me. I was waiting for the LVN program and never in my wildest dreams did i believe in myself, nor think i could ever get a Bachelor degree. God knew, and had a plan for me. I do not live up to the Title as I found the bigger, the less patient interaction. I choose to serve people, not the paperwork. I love the elderly and i find myself happiest with them and getting paid the very least. Im happy i chose nursing.

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    Julie April 25, 2021 at 8:24 am - Reply

    Now let’s do an article about what makes a good nurse manager….I think there in lies an issue.

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    Marvin Mitchell, MBA, BSN, RN April 26, 2021 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    Let us not forget that modern nursing was born in battle. Crimea, Antietam and Fredericksburg gave the world the professional nurse. Nursing was refined by fire at Inchon, Da Nang and Kuwait. A good nurse has a heart and soul that is at once tender as a parent’s love and hard as steel. We nurses stand on the shoulders of giants gone before.

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    john October 12, 2021 at 3:43 am - Reply

    Both yes and no. Yes and no. However, the dedication and perseverance required to succeed in college will serve the nurse well. A nurse must also develop critical thinking skills and be able to apply the knowledge to real-life situations. While college students may be able to learn well, nurses must also be able to apply that knowledge to the care of those they serve.

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    ELSIE JEAN OLMEDO MENDOZA November 7, 2021 at 5:37 am - Reply

    Becoming a Successful nurse.
    Nurses come into close physical and emotional contact with their patients, honesty, empathy, reliability and patience are important characteristics within the profession.
    Time management and delegation skills help us keep up with patient care responsibilities throughout our shifts.
    Exhibiting strong communication skills that help us communicate with patients and colleagues, sometimes at their worst life moments.
    Nursing is one of those rare professions that in addition to knowledge and skills requires all the best qualities you would look for in a friend.

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