About the Job

Why Critical Thinking Skills Are Essential for a Nursing Career

Many jobs exist today that demand a wide variety of skill sets, certain character traits, and ultimately a willingness to carry out all the tasks that the jobs requires.  Certain occupations will even push employees close to their limits; a true test that can very well expose one’s character.  With a job such as this, day to day work requires intense focus, and can subsequently take a mental and physical toll on someone (without proper care for oneself). 

Nonetheless, a large sum of individuals in the world today take the call to action, executing their respective work flawlessly. There is a variety of career choices that can fit the description above, yet one specifically fits it with ease: nursing.  Nursing is one of the oldest professions in existence today, and one of the most vital as well.  As long as there has been someone hurt or sick, a nurse has been there to help. 

Due to the care and passion that the job entails, it is no wonder that nursing has earned the top spot as the most trusted profession for 15 years in a row, according to a Gallup poll conducted annually.  Along these lines, Pamela Cipriano, the president of the American Nurses Association stated, “Whether nurses are by the bedside or in the boardroom, we continue to be a trusted resource and a vital part of our nation's health care system. This poll reflects the trust the public has in us, and we'll continue to work hard to keep that trust… Trust plays an important role in the relationship between nurses and the patients we serve.”

This may be obvious but being a nurse requires a multitude of traits.  Without these specific traits, the dynamics within the hospitals walls could look a lot different.  One of the most important of these traits however includes the ability for a nurse to think critically.  Critical thinking can be understood as providing a solution and executing it when the answer may not be clear, where an outline of how to do something is not provided and may very well not exist.

To think critically means to think outside of the normal schools of thought, in order to provide the best, most efficient solution possible at the given time.  In the medical realm, a nurse may see any number of tasks in a single day, requiring them to think quickly while still maintaining the safety of their patients. 

As alluded to the above however, situations exist for nurses where a certain solution may not exist or follow a certain protocol seen in textbooks.  This being said, nurses must still make decisions in the moment so as to properly care for their patients.

Why is critical thinking important?

As is the case for life, there is no precise guidebook that informs an individual of how exactly to be a nurse.  Because of this, a plethora of “grey areas” can exist.  On this topic, Georgia Vest, senior dean of nursing at Rasmussen College of Nursing in Minnesota, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP),  Registered Nurse (RN), states, “Nurses are faced with decision-making situations in patient care, and each decision they make impacts patient outcomes. Nursing critical thinking skills drive the decision-making process and impact the quality of care provided.” 

Without the use of properly thought out approaches, the patients can in fact be the ones who suffer.  An example of a lack of critical thinking could be a scenario wherein a nurse fails to recognize that the combination of two medications, of which the patient is currently taking, have adverse effects.  Failure to identify such a thing could have very serious repercussions, even a possibility of death.

Another reason as to why critical thinking is imperative for all nurses, no matter what their respective specialties may be, has to do with their interaction with colleagues.  Great communication amongst hospital staff is vital in maintaining a smoothly-functioning healthcare facility, and also contributes to a great experience for the patients. 

A hospital staff member is able to provide such an experience when all employees help to contribute their respective ideas in order to achieve a larger goal.  In order to provide the most efficient means of completing a large task, the very foundation of their ideas should stem from critical thinking.  The use of a well-communicating group of nurses in turn results in a higher likelihood that these solutions can take place.

Where is critical thinking learned?

As can be the case for many jobs, the skill of being able to think critically for a nurse can stem  from a wide variety of sources.  The more obvious places can include a nurse’s years of schooling, wherein they learned about anatomy, administering medication, clinical practices, and so on.  A nurse can often draw from these sources when making an important decision, however the knowledge obtained from the books alone will often not suffice on the job.  Because of this, the act of learning on the job plays a huge role in the instincts a nurse has in terms of providing sufficient care for a patient.  On the job training is how muscle memory can begin to develop, and is simply the single best method by which a nurse can learn a certain method of care. 

An additional factor that contributes to a nurse’s undeniable natural instincts can also come from lessons they have learned growing up.  Although less recognized, this reason can still impact how well a nurse performs under a stress-filled situation, where critical thinking is a must.  At the end of the day, one’s ability to think critically will be a culmination of all of their respective experiences in life, whether it be at home or within the hospital walls.

The future for nurses

One of the best approaches a nurse can take in order to constantly challenge themselves and keep their ability to think critically strong is to continue learning.  Learning about oneself, as well as a new and potentially innovative way to care for patients.  Although this can include the use of many books and online resources available today, much of the potential for learning will derive from countless hours of practice and exposing oneself to more challenging circumstances.  Doing so can only better prepare a nurse for the countless scenarios they may face while on the job.  Eileen Sollars, a registered nurse, highlights another approach when she states, “To improve your critical thinking, pick the brains of the experienced nurses around you to help you get the mindset.” 

This method can also prove to be useful, as nursing staff members with more experience are more likely to have seen a greater amount of scenarios.  Georgia Vest points out yet another approach when she mentions, “Another aid in the development of critical thinking I cannot stress enough is the utilization of the chain of command… In the chain of command, the nurse always reports up to the nurse manager and down to the patient care aide. Peers and fellow healthcare professionals are not in the chain of command. Clear understanding and proper utilization of the chain of command is essential in the workplace.”  Whatever the approach may be, an effort to constantly think critically is vital to the well-being of the patients nurses care for every day.