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Essential skills in nursing and how students can develop them

The role of healthcare in the world is evolving, and nurses are at the center of it. They provide compassionate care, advocate for patient health and support medical teams. However, they need to consistently improve their abilities by understanding healthcare policies, applying the latest research in care approaches and ensuring cultural competence.

One important way that nurses can gain broader knowledge is through RN to MSN bridge programs. These programs help registered nurses (RNs) transition into advanced nursing practice in specialized areas such as Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care and Psychiatric/Mental Health. Programs such as the one that Wilkes University offers focus on in-demand skills and also teach evidence-based practices to help nurses improve patient outcomes. Through a blend of academic abilities and hands-on experience, you can be equipped to address challenges in healthcare and shape its future.

However, you cannot efficiently do this without engaging in diverse yet rich experiences to develop yourself. Here are ways that you can achieve this.

Areas for skill development and how to achieve them

The modern healthcare system has upgraded the role of nurses. Their education must be as dynamic as that of doctors so that they’re prepared to solve different healthcare challenges. Here are some significant areas for skill development and how you can master them.

Cultural competency

Cultural competency is about understanding the different cultural, social and ethnic backgrounds of patients. This helps you understand that patients have different beliefs about mental health, for example, and that their background plays a significant role in their thoughts and actions. You must be able to apply this cultural knowledge in patient care, but you won’t be able to identify this without an advanced nursing education.

For instance, if a patient’s religion involves fasting during certain times, you must acknowledge and consider this when planning nutrition and medication schedules. Therefore, you don’t just note a patient’s background – you integrate this knowledge into a care plan that respects their traditions.

Nurses should also understand effective communication across languages and cultures. Some students learn basic medical terminology in a second language or are trained to use interpreters. This helps to improve patient communication because the goal is to ensure that the patient understands their care plan and feels heard and respected.

Advanced nursing programs also help student nurses challenge their personal biases. Every professional has sentiments, and these programs emphasize self-reflection and encourage you to identify and confront your prejudices. For example, a student with unconscious biases about patients with substance use disorders would have to consciously address the sentiment. Doing this will enable them to provide empathetic and equitable care.

To develop multicultural sensitivity, nurses can also engage in cultural competency workshops and leverage community resources. These workshops teach nurses (through role-playing exercises) how to identify cultural beliefs in a patient’s idea of care and how they can navigate the situation through respect and empathy.


Research is integral to contemporary nursing roles. Nurses must understand evidence-based practices (EBP), for example. This will allow them to integrate the best available research evidence with clinical expertise to enhance patient care. This isn’t a superficial reading of research papers – it’s about deeply understanding the methods, results and applications of research findings in their practice.

For this, nurses must conduct rigorous research. They must learn to evaluate research studies to determine their validity and relevance systematically. They must also apply research to clinical practice. This could mean that they’re adopting a new pain management protocol based on recent research findings. It could also mean that they’re designing a monitoring and assessment system based on contemporary systems.

How can nursing students gain exposure to these insights? They can do so through research databases such as PubMed, MedlinePlus and Scopus. Aside from research databases, they can also learn about recent techniques by collaborating with interprofessional research teams. These are people from other healthcare disciplines whose insights can contribute to their research and work. This strategy can help students improve, network with professionals and implement patient care into their activities.

Clinical judgment and decision-making

Clinical judgment is about gaining enough experience to handle several healthcare challenges. Modern healthcare is more complex than in the past. Nurses must make potentially life-changing decisions, but they’ll fail if they don’t have essential clinical experience to make such decisions.

For instance, a patient with multiple comorbidities requires different care approaches. The nurse must decide what to prioritize and improve their health – sometimes they need interdisciplinary collaboration for success here.

Nurses frequently collaborate with other healthcare professionals to make informed decisions. The input from other disciplines is a way to integrate other professionals’ perspectives into care. This enables the nurse to make decisions based on clinical convictions and evidence to improve patient health.

How can nurses achieve this ability? It’s simple: through clinical placements.

Clinical placements provide real-world application of classroom theories. For example, students learn about the symptoms and management of sepsis in classes but can only encounter a patient who exhibits the symptoms through clinical placement. This presents them with the opportunity to apply their knowledge on a real human.

Also, every day in clinical placements comes with its unique set of challenges. One day, a student nurse might be making decisions about pain management for a postoperative patient. The next, they could be determining the best care approach for a patient with end-stage renal disease. These different scenarios push students to adapt, think critically and make decisions on the fly.

All these, coupled with mentorship and feedback, help student nurses refine their decision-making processes to improve patient care.

Leadership and management

Nurses are no longer confined to traditional patient care. They now hold managerial positions, influence policy, drive quality initiatives and lead multidisciplinary teams. As such, leadership and management skills help in influencing protocols and guiding teams in crises.

Having leadership and management abilities also helps nursing students drive effective change. With new research findings and technological advancement, nursing leaders must be able to advocate for necessary change to improve patient care and implement new strategies. All these can enhance their advocacy and representation abilities. After all, leadership skills always empower nurses to represent and champion the needs and concerns of the nursing community and their patients.

How can nurses attain these abilities? They can do it through leadership courses and mentorship.

These avenues allow structured learning, which shows students different leadership and management strategies, the dynamics of conflict resolution and more. These avenues can also motivate and inspire them to develop a passion for something and fight for it. Mentorship opportunities in clinical placements also guide current nurse leaders. They give students insights into the day-to-day challenges of leadership. They can therefore gain first-hand experience on how effective leadership can shape institutional success.

Aside from leadership courses and mentorship opportunities, students can also develop leadership skills by gaining more field experience. They can do this by leading a project, heading a committee or managing a team during clinical placements. An experience like this, complemented by mentorship, can help translate theoretical knowledge into practical skills.

Interprofessional collaboration in healthcare

Interprofessional collaboration is about healthcare professionals from various fields working together to deliver patient-centered care. These professionals are usually doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists and social workers who come together to improve patient outcomes through their expertise.

Why does interprofessional collaboration matter in healthcare? First, it helps provide holistic care, as a single patient’s care might require insights from various healthcare disciplines. For example, a stroke patient needs the attention of neurologists, nurses, physiotherapists, speech therapists and psychologists. These collaborative efforts ensure that the patient enjoys a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses every area of their health. Second, it improves patient outcomes. Studies show that teams practicing effective interprofessional collaboration achieve better patient outcomes. This collaboration reduces medical errors and enhances patient satisfaction.

How can nurses develop the skills that are essential for effective collaboration? It’s simple: by networking effectively and engaging in interprofessional education.

Networking and interprofessional education expose nursing students to various healthcare professions. For example, by engaging in simulations, case studies or discussions with peers from different disciplines, nurses can understand everybody’s professional contributions to health. Also, educational activities may necessitate an interdisciplinary approach to care, where nurses collaborate with other experts to care for a patient. This experience and practical communication abilities can improve patient care and operational efficiency.

Ethical practice

Ethical practice is about adhering to moral principles and standards while delivering care. In healthcare, this often means:

  • Making decisions that respect patient autonomy.
  • Doing no harm.
  • Benefiting the patient.
  • Promoting fairness.

Ethical practice matters in healthcare because it ensures patient trust and safety. This means that their faith in the system isn’t violated, and patients are always given care that prioritizes their best interests. Knowing about ethical practices also helps when making complex decisions. There are several scenarios where the right choice is not clear-cut.

For instance, decisions around end-of-life care, patient confidentiality or resource allocation in emergencies require solid ethical grounding. Nurses must learn to develop professional integrity and uphold ethical standards. These traits assure the public and other stakeholders that nurses operate with the highest moral standards and cannot jeopardize patient care.

How can nurses enhance their knowledge of ethical practices? Nurses can learn from ethics courses and real-world case discussions to enhance their knowledge. This entails foundational knowledge about bioethics principles, such as autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice. They also explore specific ethical guidelines relevant to nursing practice.

By discussing real-world cases, student nurses are also exposed to the complexities of ethical dilemmas. This helps them to analyze situations from multiple angles and prepares them to make informed decisions when faced with similar problems in their practice.

Advanced clinical practice experience 

Advanced clinical practice is beyond basic nursing skills. It involves understanding complex care scenarios, interventions and diagnostic processes. Patient needs have become more intricate as the health sector evolves, and the demand for nursing professionals equipped with advanced clinical competencies has soared. Advanced clinical practice is essential because it helps enhance patient care, fills healthcare gaps, and helps nurses understand the length and breadth of specialized care delivery (geriatrics, pediatrics or oncology).

Nursing students can gain this experience through simulations in their clinical placements and different mentoring opportunities. For example, nursing students will encounter and manage different patient scenarios during their placements. These may include routine activities and emergency patient care, all of which improve their clinical judgment.

Also, nursing students work under expert guidance during placements. Through this opportunity, they can learn from their insights and feedback to mold their clinical approach to make it effective and patient-centered.

Health promotion and disease prevention

‘Prevention is better than cure’ is a common principle in modern healthcare. This means that health promotion and disease prevention focus on proactive individual and community health strategies. This involves educating people about healthy behaviors, promoting lifestyle changes, and implementing measures to prevent or detect diseases early.

Why is this essential in healthcare? In the long run, disease prevention initiatives help reduce healthcare costs as the diseases are tackled early. Also, it reduces any significant threat to life, extends longevity and enhances quality of life. Health promotion also helps empower communities as they become informed about their health choices.

How can student nurses learn and improve this outreach ability? Nurses can do so by engaging in community health outreaches. This real-world engagement can provide insights into the specific health needs of a community and help them tailor interventions. For example, a community with high obesity rates can gain interventions for nutrition education.

Embracing technology

Technology is at the heart of healthcare today, and systems such as healthcare informatics, the intersection of information science, computer science and healthcare, can enhance operations. Health informatics deals with resources, devices and methods required to optimize information acquisition, storage, retrieval and utilization in health and medicine. Understanding this reinforces efficient, updated and safe patient care for nursing students.

Technology and healthcare informatics are essential in modern healthcare because they enhance patient care. For example, tools such as electronic health records (EHR) and telemedicine platforms enable seamless patient management. They allow accurate patient information in real time and lead to better diagnostic and treatment decisions. Technology and healthcare informatics also ensure safety and efficiency in support systems. To cap it all, they empower patients because healthcare professionals can access health records through telehealth platforms and offer care accordingly.

Student nurses can enhance their understanding of these tools by becoming more intimate with them. They can watch nurses when they use them and study online resources on how these tools work. The clinical placement experience also reinforces this ability and prepares them to lead, innovate and maximize technology for health and wellbeing.


Today, nurses are educators, policy advocates, researchers and community leaders. The advanced education of nurses equips them with the necessary skills to do their jobs better. Clinical placements, mentorship, networking and interprofessional collaborations are not just supplementary experiences – they are foundational in molding students into holistic healthcare professionals.

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