6 Essential Clinical Nursing Skills

NursingSeptember 29, 2023

Nurses represent the largest segment of healthcare workers, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). There are four times as many nurses as there are physicians in the U.S. healthcare system, and the majority of healthcare services require some type of care that a nurse provides.

Given their essential role in healthcare, nurses have an obligation to ensure they maintain the skills they need to do their jobs well. Acquiring clinical nursing skills and keeping those skills up to date is a fundamental responsibility of any nurse, and certain clinical skills are important to all nurses regardless of their specific roles. Anyone who is considering enrolling in a nursing school program can benefit from exploring the essential clinical skills that are critical to professional success in the field. 

What Are Clinical Nursing Skills? 

It’s helpful to think about clinical nursing skills in relation to nurses’ responsibilities. One approach is to view essential clinical nursing skills as the capabilities that enable nurses to carry out the steps in the nursing process. These steps include the following:

  • Assessment: Analyzing patients’ objective data, such as their vital signs, and subjective data, such as the information they provide when describing their health complaints
  • Diagnosis: Identifying patients’ specific health issues
  • Planning: Developing interventions and goals to address patients’ health issues
  • Implementation: Carrying out the interventions specified in patients’ care plans
  • Evaluation: Determining whether patients are achieving the desired outcomes from their care plans, and revising care plans as needed

Another way to consider essential clinical skills is as the skills needed to provide services across four spheres of healthcare delivery. Specifically, the AACN has stressed the need for nursing education and skills in these areas:

  • Preventing disease and promoting well-being and health
  • Providing care for chronic diseases 
  • Performing restorative and regenerative care
  • Offering palliative, supportive, and hospice care 

6 Key Clinical Nursing Skills 

The ANA Enterprise (an organization comprising the American Nurses Association, the American Nurses Credentialing Center, and the American Nurses Foundation) has identified the six skills discussed below as essential to the nursing profession. Nurses can use these skills to help patients achieve positive health outcomes and to enhance the quality of the nursing profession.

1. Communication Skills

Strong oral and written communication skills are critical to any nurse’s success. Good communication skills include being adept at understanding patients’ nonverbal cues and actively listening. Communication is key to minimizing medical errors and miscommunication, and it’s instrumental in helping patients make good decisions about their health. 

2. Ability to Pay Attention to Details

As with communication skills, being able to pay attention to details is critical in minimizing medical errors. Recognizing changes in a patient’s condition — even changes that might initially seem minor — can help to ensure patients receive quality healthcare. The ANA Enterprise notes that developing skills in time management and balancing priorities can help strengthen a nurse’s attention to detail.

3. Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Skills

Being able to solve problems and practice critical thinking are key components of a nurse’s clinical skill set. Often working autonomously, nurses rely on their healthcare expertise and critical thinking skills to analyze information and develop approaches to help patients achieve positive health outcomes. Nurses’ problem-solving skills also enable them to make decisions when working in stressful situations.

4. Skills in Expressing Compassion and Empathy

Nursing is a helping profession, and nurses’ ability to express compassion and empathy is important in building trust with their patients. Expressing empathy shows that nurses can relate to what their patients are experiencing, and demonstrating compassion can help to alleviate patients’ concerns regarding their health. 

5. Skills in Advocating for Patients and Demonstrating Integrity

Patients who are receiving healthcare services are in a vulnerable position. Nurses have a duty to advocate for their patients and demonstrate integrity in the work they perform. Nurses operating from a strong moral and ethical point of view can support their patients in making the best decisions regarding their healthcare.

6. Ability to Continue Learning and Enhancing Nursing Skills

Nurses who are willing to continue expanding their expertise are well positioned to provide the best care to their patients. Whether it’s pursuing professional development opportunities, furthering their education, or participating in mentoring projects, nurses have numerous avenues for advancing their existing skills and acquiring new skills.

Hands-on Clinical Skills That Nurses View as Important

Aspiring nurses might be interested to know about the specific hands-on clinical skills that current nurses believe are important in performing their jobs. In 2021, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing surveyed new registered nurses and new licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses and found the following:

  • New registered nurses reported that skills in patient safety, airway management, and basic life support were the top three most important hands-on skills in their role.
  • New licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses reported that skills related to medication, client safety, and infection control were the top three most important hands-on skills in their role.

Benefits of Earning a Nursing Degree 

Many benefits extend to nurses who complete a licensed practical nursing program, an associate degree program in nursing, or a bachelor’s or graduate degree program in nursing. In addition to helping individuals acquire clinical nursing skills, nursing programs position individuals to do the following:

  • Enter a profession with bright job prospects. The ongoing nursing shortage in healthcare translates into strong employment prospects for nurses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts there will be 203,200 openings for registered nurses each year through 2031. The BLS also has identified nurse practitioner as the fastest growing occupation in the country, with 46% projected job growth through 2031.
  • Perform rewarding work that improves patients’ lives. While the monetary compensation of a nursing career is important, having the opportunity to engage in work that improves the lives of patients offers nurses a strong sense of fulfillment.  
  • Specialize in an area of interest. The nursing profession offers individuals the opportunity to choose a specialization that aligns with their interests and career goals. 
  • Pursue career advancement. With the proper education, skills, and experience, nurses can climb the career ladder and move into management and executive roles in healthcare. Nurse practitioners can even establish their own independent practices.

Clinical Nursing Skills: The Basis for a Rewarding Career 

Acquiring clinical nursing skills is a great way to embark on a gratifying career path in healthcare. Nurses’ expertise and capabilities make them indispensable in ensuring that patients receive quality healthcare. 

Individuals who have an interest in pursuing a nursing education can explore the Fortis nursing school programs to learn how these programs help aspiring and experienced nurses achieve their career goals. From practical nursing instruction to nursing graduate education, these nursing programs stand ready to educate nurses at all levels of experience. Take the first step on the path to achieving your nursing career ambitions today. 

Recommended Readings
5 Ways Nurses Are Making a Difference in Patients’ Lives
The Most Common Question New Nurses Ask
Nurses’ Essential Tools to Bring to Work as a New Grad

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “The Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education”
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Workforce Fact Sheet
ANA Enterprise, “What Are the Qualities of a Good Nurse?”
National Council of State Boards of Nursing, “Report of Findings From the 2021 LPN/VN Nursing Knowledge Survey”
National Council of State Boards of Nursing, “Report of Findings From the 2021 RN Nursing Knowledge Survey”
Osmosis, ADPIE: Nursing Process Acronym
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Fastest Growing Occupations
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses