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7 Essential Critical Thinking Skills for Nurses

7 Essential Critical Thinking Skills for Nurses

A few days into my first nursing course, my professor made one thing very clear: Each and every one of us, from that moment on, needed to remove "just a nurse" from our vocabulary.

"Are you a doctor?"

"No, I'm just a nurse."

I'm not just a nurse. I am a nurse.

Not so long ago, nurses were task-workers who simply carried out doctors’ orders and followed rules. Today, they are skilled and capable professionals whose expertise is essential to patient care and positive patient outcomes.

What changed and how did we get here?

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One thing is very clear, and that is that developing our critical thinking skills has helped to bring about this transformation within the nursing profession. Nurses earn respect when they can discuss the pathophysiology of the patient's condition with other healthcare providers, and together make a plan. Often the nurse’s suggestions determine the course of action, and at other times, nurses learn something new. When you demonstrate critical thinking, you find that your colleagues don't talk down to you. You discuss things together and act as a team.

What is critical thinking in nursing?

Critical thinking is a skill, and just like any other skill, you must practice it in order to become competent. If you have decided that nursing is the profession for you, then you may already possess some of the necessary skills:

  • Critical thinkers look at an issue or problem from many viewpoints. They don’t see things as black or white. Instead, they see the variety of shades that make up a situation.

  • They regard patients with empathy and from a whole-person perspective.

  • Open-mindedness and tolerance for other cultures and views is part of the critical thinking process. For example, what would you do if a patient with high blood pressure repeatedly comes into your clinic because he cannot afford to buy his medication? Just dealing with his high blood pressure is not enough; you must also consider his access to medication, diet, exercise and lifestyle. Critical thinking in this situation is essential to meet all the patient’s needs.

  • Critical thinkers actively investigate a problem or situation to ensure that they have all the information. They ask questions, and find out as much as they can about the patient’s illness, condition and treatment.

  • They seek to know about the patient as a person. Does he work, have family, exercise and eat well? Considering the disease alone may lead you to miss vital information that you will need to help the patient.

  • Critical thinkers are not afraid to admit that they don’t know something. In nursing school, you learn a great deal about many different conditions, but you will never know everything. Turn to the experts. Utilize resources like textbooks and articles to get the most current information. Remember, nursing requires that you become a lifelong learner, so give free rein to your intellectual curiosity and take advantage of every opportunity to learn.

  • Critical thinkers cultivate the skill of reflection. Reflecting on your own thinking process and how you reached a conclusion is an essential part of critical thinking. Reflection allows you to step back and consider how you actually solved a problem. It helps you to connect new knowledge to prior experiences, and apply that knowledge to a current situation. Your experiences will begin to stack up and give you a solid foundation on which to base your decisions.

Critical thinking develops over time

You will find that your critical thinking skills improve as your nursing experience grows. You will not be an expert critical thinker when you begin your nursing education. But over time, you will become more confident in your ability to handle clinical experiences in a knowledgeable and professional manner. For example, the first time you administer medications, you may be focused on giving the right medication to the right patient. You may go into the patient’s room and forget to look at the patient first: Is he having trouble breathing? Is he sweating? Is he in pain? You may not be able to take in all the signs. But the next time, and the time after that, you will start to notice more. You will be able to combine your basic knowledge with your experiences in similar situations. You will be confident not only that you are giving the correct medication, but also that your patient is sufficiently alert and comfortable to be able to swallow the medication.

To learn more about developing your critical thinking skills, download our webinar:

Download Critical Thinking Webinar

As a skilled and capable professional, you will use your critical thinking skills to provide excellent patient care leading to excellent patient outcome. You will gain confidence and expertise and be not only proud to say “I am a nurse” but to say “I am your nurse."

If you enjoyed reading this blog, here are two more postings you might like:
Is a Nursing Career Right for You?  and How Completing My RN-BSN Changed My Life.


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