There are some professions that rely as much on soft (interpersonal) skills as they do on technical knowledge and abilities. That is certainly true of nursing, which often involves caring for people who are in pain, discomfort, or some other form of distress.
Even nurses who specialize in such fields as midwifery, elderly care, and nutrition need personal characteristics that help build a relationship of trust with their patients. For this reason, the training given to nurses throughout their careers must focus on both professional and personal development.
A good example is a Family Nurse Practitioner. These individuals hold advanced nursing qualifications and are enabled to do some of the tasks traditionally carried out by physicians. However, as they work in local clinics and health centers and care for individuals and families over a period of time, the relationship they build with their patients is vital. That is a professional relationship that relies on both competence and warmth.
What defines soft skills in nursing?
So-called hard skills are linked to a nurse’s medical knowledge and technical expertise. That includes familiarity with many aspects of diagnosis, treatment, and general care. It also now incorporates the skilled use of medical technology, which is a feature of all modern healthcare providers.
Soft skills – also sometimes referred to as interpersonal skills – are less quantifiable but highly transferable abilities that enable a nurse to adapt quickly to new situations, behave positively, and respond appropriately to individual patients.
Are the best nursing attributes innate or learned? The truth is that it’s a mixture of both. The American Nursing Association lists the qualities of a good nurse, and it includes various personal characteristics like empathy and integrity.
It would be easy to assume this is the sort of personality people need in order to enter this profession in the first place. However, though a dedication to helping others and a willingness to learn are key attributes you need to start nurse training, the best courses focus on both professional and personal skills and attributes.
Learning soft skills
A study into this topic sums it up by saying: “Soft skills can be acquired and developed through training” and “Incorporating learning strategies that focus on soft skill development into undergraduate health care programs is essential.”
That is why the American International College’s online FNP program focuses on both the “art and science” of nursing. Students of the program study and carry out practical work to learn both the competencies of the advanced practice nurse and also the personal skills required for modern nursing. This enables graduate FNPs to play a strong role not just in diagnosis and treatment but also in health promotion and disease prevention, for example.
Soft skills in practice
Mention has already been made of the fact that nurses need to establish a meaningful relationship with patients in any niche and setting, and that needs to be a relationship based on professional competence but also warmth and empathy.
What other soft skills can make this possible and effective?
One of the most obvious soft skills nurses need is good communication.
That may not be as straightforward as it first appears, and even the most extroverted and articulate individual may have a lot to learn when they embark on a nursing training program.
For example, they must be able to communicate with patients during high pressure situations. It can be vital to explain medical information in a way they understand and to get clear answers to vital questions.
Another communication skill needed by nurses is active listening. This again relates to knowing what questions to ask and responding appropriately to patients to get them to open up more. It also involves being able to read non-verbal cues and gather information from things like body language.
Remember, too, that nurses need to communicate appropriately and effectively with more than just patients; they must share information and collaborate with their colleagues and consult with other health care professionals as required.
For instance, ensuring accurate information is exchanged during shift changes or patient transfers can make a significant difference to a patient’s health and wellbeing.
Attention to detail and organizational abilities
These are more of the essential soft skills for nurses that can be acquired or enhanced during their training.
It could start with learning the techniques involved in accurate and thorough note taking and the use of digital patient records to ensure all information is recorded appropriately.
Some of the more mundane tasks from nursing have been outsourced to medical technology such as devices to record vital signs, monitor drug dispensing, and record treatment progress. Nurses still need the ability to use those devices appropriately and consistently.
Nurses often have a high case load and multiple patients who need their attention. However, there are times when multi-tasking doesn’t work in nursing. A responsive, well-trained nurse knows when one task must be completed properly before they should move on to the next one.
Confidence and decision making
The above point illustrates not just the organizational abilities a nurse needs but also another soft skill vital to this profession: problem solving Thorough training – including in depth professional knowledge and skills – gives nurses the ability to apply critical thinking and intuitive problem solving.
They often need to act quickly in what could be life-or-death situations, or they must decide on an action that can prevent the patient from suffering significant and preventable harm. That requires them to have confidence in their own decision-making abilities.
Leadership and team building skills
No overview of the soft skills learned by nurses would be complete without mentioning the fact that professionals in this sector must know how to build and lead teams. This includes interdisciplinary collaboration to ensure each patient has the team they need for a sustainable recovery or successful health support.
Interwoven into this would be innovation abilities. For instance, a Family Nurse Practitioner would play a key role in professional practice development.
Also, many nurses contribute to the development of global and national healthcare, either by playing a role within decision making organizations, or by contributing the data and anecdotal evidence that those organizations build on.