Essential Nursing Skills: Top Clinical And Soft Skills For Nurses

Mar 22, 2022

Nurses are a vital component of medical teams. They are responsible for many tasks including patient care, administering medications, checking vital signs, and communicating with doctors and other healthcare team members. In the U.S., there are more nurses than any other medical professional, and the nursing field is expected to grow by 9% in the next decade. This growth would add over 276,000 jobs to the existing 2.99 million registered nursing positions.

There are dozens of different types of nursing roles, which have a range of job responsibilities and salaries. Nurses are found in a variety of medical and non-medical settings, including home health care, nursing homes, physicians’ offices, hospitals, outpatient clinics and schools. Despite the variety of nursing positions available, all nurses must achieve basic soft skills and clinical skills in order to excel in this career.

This list of top soft and clinical nursing skills was compiled from several resources, including nursing school websites, nursing job listings, and experiences shared by seasoned nurses. Continue reading to learn more about essential nursing skills and how to acquire them.

Top Soft Skills

Soft skills are non-technical traits or attributes that help a person excel at their career. While nurses must be proficient at a variety of medical techniques, having the following soft skills can mean the difference between a great nurse and an average nurse. These top five soft skills are beneficial to the patient, the nurse, and healthcare team members.


Effective and clear communication is a critical skill for nurses. Nurses must be able to clearly communicate any medical updates to other healthcare team members during shift changes, as well as clear instructions to patients and their family members.


Teamwork is an important nursing skill. Those who work well with others are valuable assets to any healthcare team. Nurses collaborate with many other healthcare members, especially on complicated cases. Nurses must know when to be assertive and advocate for their patients with confidence, and when to back off and let other team members take the lead.

Creative problem solving

This critical thinking skill has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, where nurses have been in the spotlight as frontline healthcare workers. Innovations are needed as different situations occur in the medical field. Since nurses spend more time with patients than any other healthcare provider, nurses are the ones that must adapt the most in a changing healthcare environment.


Nurses interact with patients and family members during challenging times. Nurses must reserve judgment and treat patients respectfully, even if they see negative behaviors such as addiction. Additionally, nurses must have empathy and patience when dealing with stressed, worried, or grief-stricken family members or loved ones.

Initiative and time management

Nurses must learn to juggle many tasks during the course of their shift, which requires both initiative and a strong work ethic. In hospital settings, patients are cared for around the clock. To accommodate shift changes, nurses are often expected to show up early so they can get relevant patient information from the nurses and doctors on the previous shift.

Top Clinical Skills

The top five clinical skills for nurses listed below are the most fundamental skills that most nursing positions require. Clinical skills — often called hard skills — are acquired by education, practice, and repetition.

Checking and monitoring vital signs

This top clinical skill for nurses is one of the most frequently performed tasks across all types of nursing. Nurses must know how to check and monitor a patient’s heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and temperature. In hospital settings, nurses monitor vital signs to determine if treatments are working and provide doctors with relevant information to make potentially life-saving decisions.

Urgent care and emergency care

This clinical skill set is important for nurses to master since they must respond promptly to a patient’s changing medical condition. Even non-emergency department nurses must know basic emergency nursing skills since patients may rapidly deteriorate in other medical locations, nursing homes, or home environments. Caring for wounds and post-surgical care are additional skills that fall into this category.

Patient and family education

Nurses play an important role in educating patients and their loved ones about diagnosis, treatments, and any relevant precautions. Therefore, nurses must be well-versed in their medical speciality.

Technology skills

Nurses are required to have a wide range of fundamental technology skills. In today’s nursing world, technology is used to monitor vital signs and maintain patient records. The majority of hospitals and outpatient medical facilities use electronic medical record systems, which are used for all patient charting activities.

Medication administration

One of the tasks that nurses frequently perform in hospital, home health, and nursing facilities is administering medications. Nurses are taught the “Five Rights” of medication administration: right patient, right drug, right dose, right route, and right time. While the actual act of administering medication may be simple, nurses must understand the related rules to ensure patient safety.

Ways To Learn Nursing Skills

There are several ways to learn the essential clinical nursing skills needed to get certified and help patients. All states require that nurses either become certified or hold degrees in order to practice nursing.


There are multiple pathways to nursing, which range from certificate programs to doctoral degrees. The six main nursing education programs are:

  • Certificate program to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
  • Certificate program to become a Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN)
  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) to become a Registered Nurse (RN)
  • Bachelor of Science in Nurse (BSN) to become an RN
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
  • Doctor of Nurse Practice (DNP) to enter advanced leadership and research roles

Additional Training Resources

Once certified, many states require that nurses complete continuing education classes in order to retain their certificate or license. There are a wide variety of options for meeting these requirements, including in-person and online training.

Technological advancements have increased the use of certain technology modalities in healthcare education. Virtual reality (VR) is a useful tool for healthcare training. You may ask, Why VR training for nurses? VR training provides the following benefits for nurses and other healthcare workers:

  • Remote learning opportunities: VR training for nurses provides hands-on training simulations without having to travel for classes. This also allows more students to be taught by expert guest educators.
  • Increased engagement: VR training helps increase student engagement, especially when the information is very technical. Increased engagement helps increase success when performing the task in the real world.
  • Recreated scenarios: Practicing different scenarios is critical for nurses who must be competent at many tasks. VR allows instructors to recreate a wide variety of scenarios through VR simulations, which better prepares nurses for the challenges that come with the job.
  • Reduced costs: As VR technology has improved, the headset hardware required has become more affordable. This allows for training without the financial risk.
  • Reduced language barriers: People often learn better when they are listening to their native language. VR helps make healthcare training more accessible and effective for individuals who may not speak English as their first language.

Visit SimX to learn more about their VR training for clinical nursing skills. This training includes custom immersive simulations for nursing students to practice interactions they will encounter in the real world.

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