What are the core skills you need to have in order to have a successful and rewarding career in nursing?

The US is facing an acute shortage of doctors, and as a result, there is a growing need for nurse practitioners. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), by 2031, there will be a 46% increase in nurse practitioner jobs. Several factors are driving this growth, including an increased emphasis on preventive care and the aging of the baby boomer generation.

A nurse practitioner’s job is much more than a job; it is a calling. So, while potential nurse practitioners look at the job market, they also realize that it is a rewarding career choice where they have a unique power to make a real difference in people’s lives. That is why, when new graduates join the workforce, they provide more than just care, especially in underserved and underprivileged communities. Nursing in underserved communities across the US involves primary care, and nurse practitioners play a significant role in fostering healthier lives and campaigning for better services in these communities. Carson-Newman University offers online family nurse practitioner programs that allow nurses to prepare for this new role while maintaining their work-life balance.

Knowing that you will be responsible for treating patients, preventing communicable and non-communicable diseases, dealing with family members, educating younger nurses and upgrading your skills, could leave you feeling daunted. However, nurse practitioners learn many core skills to succeed in their careers, regardless of where they are working.

Aspiring nurse practitioners require a college degree, clinical training and a board-issued license before entering the field. Prior to that, make sure that you start with the right college, one that is accredited to help you earn your degree. At the same time, you should be aware of the essential nursing skills, so that you can hone them while studying. These skills will help you perform your role as a nurse practitioner effectively and help you stand out. That, in turn, will pave the way for promotions and leadership roles.

Hard and soft skills in nursing

Nurse practitioners require a combination of hard and soft skills to be successful throughout their careers. They acquire most of the core hard skills when they study and the remaining when they begin working. So, selecting the right college or university is the key to gaining comprehensive hard skills.

However, nursing is also about people – patients, family members, doctors, other nursing staff and caregivers. So, nurse practitioners also require soft skills that not only allow them to collaborate with doctors and other nurse practitioners, but make them more sociable, approachable and patient-friendly.

With hard skills, nursing professionals have the right medical knowledge and expertise to provide the best quality healthcare to their patients. In contrast, with soft skills, they can easily navigate their work environment, collaborate with a team, and speak to family members and caregivers in their language.

Hard skills

  • These skills are quantifiable and measurable.
  • They can be taught during degree programs and with hands-on training.
  • Hard skills are specific to each job. So, the hard skills that nursing requires are quite different from the hard skills of a web developer.
  • Certifications, degrees and employment history are evidence that a nurse practitioner has the right set of hard skills.

Soft skills

  • These skills are abstract, so they are difficult to measure.
  • Soft skills are more about interpersonal skills.
  • Most nurse practitioners develop soft skills through personal experiences.
  • The evidence of soft skills is subjective.

While nurse practitioners gain the right set of hard skills when they pursue higher education, the importance of soft skills cannot be overlooked. These skills complement the technical parts of the jobs. Nurse practitioners need to realize that the physical health of their patients is only part of the entire picture. They must also recognize and understand verbal and nonverbal responses and identify underlying emotional challenges to engage with their patients.

Soft skills are an essential part of nursing care. They help nurse practitioners work with other medical professionals and function effectively as part of their teams. This improves the ability of a team to provide quality care to patients. Soft skills also help nurses to adapt to different situations and environments and work under stressful conditions. This paves the way for higher job satisfaction and success in their profession.

How to develop soft skills for nursing

When you complete your BSN or MSN and join the nursing field, you will have the hard skills required to provide quality care. You will gain the soft skills required for nursing over time. Most new nurses already have some soft skills, but still need to develop more. This can be achieved through continued experience and self-introspection. Also, receiving constructive feedback from senior nursing staff and medical professionals can help nurses hone these soft skills further.

Nurses who can seamlessly combine technical skills and educational knowledge with outstanding social and emotional abilities are better able to provide the best quality care.

Essential soft skills in nursing

Nurse practitioners require several soft skills to succeed in this field and some of the most essential skills are as follows:

Effective communication:

Nurses have to communicate every day with patients, their families and the medical teams treating patients. They need to listen to and understand their patients so that they can evaluate their conditions and create proper treatment plans. Additionally, nurse practitioners must clearly provide instructions to patients or their family members about the treatment plan and communicate with doctors and other nurses. So, they require good communication skills in every sphere of their work.

Critical thinking:

As a nurse, you will meet new patients and come across new conditions and symptoms. Also, health conditions constantly change. So, you should be able to analyze and think on your feet to deal with anything that comes your way. Whether it is a patient who suddenly develops new symptoms or one who does not respond as anticipated to treatment, you should be able to analyze and diagnose potential causes and solutions.

Attention to detail:

You should have a keen eye for detail as many conditions you handle can be a matter of life or death. A nurse practitioner has to be precise to ensure their patients receive the proper treatment at the right time. You should also be able to gauge minor symptoms that your patients display, including allergies, and ask the right questions so that you do not miss anything that can impede the patient’s treatment or cause poor treatment outcomes.

Flexibility and adaptability:

When you work as a nurse practitioner, no two days will be the same. So, you need to be ready to adapt to different situations. You may suddenly have to make changes to a patient’s treatment plan or change your shift schedule. Doctors may have requests that could surprise, or your patients could have a bad day. You need to be flexible and adaptable to handle these different situations to ensure that you do not neglect a patient’s care. A nurse has to continue persevering without faltering in their duties, and that is possible only if nurses are flexible and avoid being fazed by surprises and changes.

Continue learning and upgrading their knowledge and skills:

The field of nursing is never static. There are constant changes and improvements in this field, and you must devote time to learning these skills. Depending on the state you work in, there will be license requirements that you need to maintain. Additionally, when new technologies and treatments emerge, you need to learn about them and become comfortable using them. So, you must stay up-to-date and continue learning. You can do this by asking the right questions at your workplace, participating in seminars and conferences, and reading the latest publications and research papers for nursing care and treatments.

Compassion and empathy:

Compassion and empathy are core skills that outstanding nurses require. Compassion means to sympathize with or be concerned about a person’s suffering. Empathy, on the other hand, means understanding the suffering that a person experiences. If you want to provide the best quality nursing care to your patients, you require both of these qualities. They enable you to provide patients with emotional support when they are going through the most challenging times of their lives and are at their most vulnerable. Demonstrating compassion and empathy will help you become a better nurse practitioner.

Time management skills:

You will be multi-tasking as a nurse practitioner. So, to complete your daily tasks and ensure optimal patient care, you need outstanding time management skills. Some new nurse practitioners are under the misconception that time management skills are meant for just med-surg nursing. However, all fields of nursing require good time management skills so that nurses can juggle all their tasks without compromising patient care.


When a nurse is professional, they can perform their work optimally. They are responsive, ready to help others, perform quality work and are humble when dealing with patients and colleagues. Being professional when working also furthers your good reputation as a nurse and ensures you take pride in your work. You will also be ready to help others when you see an opportunity.

Physical strength and stamina:

Nursing is a labor-intensive field, especially if you work in a hospital and are integrally involved in patient care. You will spend a lot of time on your feet as you check on patients, ensure they take their medications on time and walk around the ward examining patients with the specialists. To be able to perform your daily tasks as a nurse practitioner, you will need physical strength and stamina.

Stress management:

When you work as a nurse practitioner, you will face situations that will be stressful and could prevent you from performing your job. Work-related stress can put you at risk of burnout. So, make sure you take time each day to relax and do things you enjoy. This will enable you to manage the stress of your work and help you enjoy what you do.

Ability to delegate:

As you gain more experience in your job, you will rise up the ranks. This will increase your responsibilities. You cannot do everything independently and shouldn’t resort to micro-management. To be a successful nurse practitioner, you should be able to delegate tasks to a nurse aide or another nurse. However, you should know when to delegate tasks and to whom.


As stated earlier, you will not be able to do all the tasks, but you still have to ensure that all tasks get done. There is no question of skipping tasks. So, you should be able to prioritize, especially when you simultaneously have to examine and treat two patients. You should know which patient to treat and evaluate first based on their symptoms and health history.


You will always work in collaboration as a nurse practitioner. You will be working with new and experienced nurses, doctors and specialists. So, you should know how to communicate and effectively work with other team members. Teamwork is an intrinsic skill that you need to work on and cannot learn through studying or reading from textbooks. To effectively and efficiently work with others, you should always maintain your composure, even if you are irritated, angry or stressed. Respect your colleagues and patients, and be flexible.

Essential technical and clinical skills in nursing

Now that you know the essential soft skills you will require to be a successful nurse, it is time to delve into the core hard skills.

Patient care:

Patient care is a core skill that every nurse requires. It forms the crux of the field. To ensure optimal patient care, you must be competent in assessing patients and planning their treatment protocols. For this, you must carefully listen to your patients and come up with possible treatment plans based on their symptoms.

To provide the best patient care possible, you need the right training. You will learn to deliver proper patient care while enrolled in a nursing program. The program will teach you basic nursing and caregiving skills. In addition, you will learn to conduct physical and psychosocial examinations and assessments. Nursing programs are designed to ensure you learn how to deliver care across the lifespan of patients and that you can develop effective treatment plans that are customized to suit the healthcare and wellness needs of your patients. Patient care also involves meeting and adhering to legal and ethical standards; you will learn about them through your nursing program.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation:

More commonly known as CPR, cardiopulmonary resuscitation is an emergency life-saving procedure that you need to perform when a person’s heart stops beating. The American Heart Association states that performing immediate CPR on a patient with a cardiac arrest can double or even triple the chances of survival. So, as a nurse, you should know how to perform CPR. While you will learn the essential art of CPR during clinical training, you may also need to complete CPR training and certification.

Life support and advanced cardiac life support:

Nurse practitioners need training in basic and advanced life support. Most nurses learn basic life support during their nursing education. However, you can easily get certified in advanced cardiac life support (ACLS). With this certification, you will know what to do if a patient suffers from cardiac arrest. Your actions at that crucial moment could save a patient’s life.

Emergency and critical care:

A majority of new nurses begin their careers working in a hospital. While some nurses work with patients suffering from chronic conditions, most tend to work in an environment that has an influx of new patients and emergencies. So, nurse practitioners should be adept in providing emergency nursing care, especially if they work in a fast-paced environment. On the other hand, critical care requires nurses to take care of seriously ill patients in intensive care units (ICUs). These patients require a different type of nursing care as they suffer from life-threatening, complex or acute conditions or illnesses that require close monitoring.

Case management:

Though case management is associated with patient care, it is an essential nursing skill. Nurse practitioners work with multiple patients every day. They need to know how to create customized treatment plans, monitor each patient’s condition, and take the right action to ensure their patients’ health and safety. A nurse must know how to simultaneously handle several patients to ensure they meet each patient’s needs while also advocating on their behalf.

Nursing care is an amalgamation of different skills that come together when a nurse practitioner is working. So, you need to be well-versed in soft and hard skills to provide optimal nursing care. Today, the focus is on patient-based care as it helps to improve patient safety, provides a high degree of patient and staff satisfaction and ensures patients have a superior care experience. Being a nurse is about making connections and creating an environment that ensures patients and their families are safe, cared for and informed. With the right core skills, you will thrive as a nurse practitioner and find the career rewarding and satisfying.

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