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Three Essential Skills That Advance Nursing Careers

Rising to the top of your nursing profession could be as simple as mastering these three essential skills: attitude, cooperation and professionalism.

Advancing your nursing career doesn’t mean you have to elbow others out of your way while chasing promotions. You also shouldn’t have to invest hours of overtime to prove your worth to upper management.

Rising to the top of your profession could be as simple as mastering these three essential skills.

1. Attitude

Attitude isn’t easy to discuss with everyone, but it plays a crucial part in professional success. Good managers realize that no employee “has it all”. When it comes to finding a nurse with just the right combination of skills and attitude, it’s nearly impossible. That’s why employers prefer to recruit for attitude and train for skills.

Attitude is more than point of view or perspective; it speaks to being broad-minded and flexible. Possessing an attitude of openness and resilience directs larger attitudes about competency and autonomy—areas where new nurses struggle.

According to a 2018 study in Nurse Education Today, the problem-based learning approach in nursing education programs correlates to positive attitudes in competence and autonomy. Problem-based learning allows new nurses to use what they’ve learned to solve a problem, to think through several issues at once, and to practice intrinsic motivation—all behaviors directed by a healthy attitude.

Nurses with great attitudes are more inclined to learn new skills, making hard work more important than skills or talent when it comes to success.

When I first started working in the Pediatric ICU, I knew the only way to succeed was being interested and welcoming feedback from my peers. Turned out it was a direct path toward competency and autonomy, after four years I was night charge nurse.

2. Cooperation

Cooperation surfaces in several forms such as respect for co-workers and management, the degree of helpfulness toward others, and group participation.

New nurses are still learning and cooperation within the new learning environment is important. In the Journal of Workplace Learning, cooperation and feedback are significant predictors of learning outcomes. Cooperative learning results in positive relationships. These, in turn, foster affirmative learning experiences where feedback isn’t felt as criticism, instruction isn’t taken as a tirade, and respect is nurtured.

Another expected consequence of cooperative learning is self-awareness. This surfaces naturally as new nurses work alongside their colleagues. Side-by-side participation leads to discovering the struggles associated with learning complex nursing ideas and theories. It allows for open, healthy responses between instructor and student.

Although cooperation includes being willing to step up and help out in the workplace, that is not the only place it is shown. It is also found in observing how senior nurses or staff leaders handle conflicts and prioritize tasks, then taking the initiative to ask questions from a place of genuine desire to improve your own work.

3. Professionalism

Very little is taught in nursing school regarding professional nursing behaviors on and off the job. As a result, many new nurses are not aware that nursing professionalism encompasses everything from proper use of social media platforms and caring about your appearance to bedside care and family interactions.

According to the American Nurses Association, nursing professionalism encompasses a willingness to deliver high-quality care to patients on a continual basis while possessing a steadfast commitment to the profession.

On the Job

Professional behaviors on the job are when we advocate for patients, communicate well with medical teams, and respond appropriately under pressure. Taking charge when necessary and bringing solutions to the table when appropriate are high-end professional behaviors. Additionally, accountability plays a big role in nursing professionalism.

One night in the Pediatric ICU, we had a whirlwind admission, the kind that leaves rooms messy and staff frazzled. When the doctor questioned the fluids hanging, I responded with confidence, certain it was right. I couldn’t find my notes to confirm it immediately, however, about an hour later I found the paper where I had written everything down during the chaos and sure enough, I was wrong. I immediately found him, showed him the paper, and we made the change. Although no harm was done, I was wrong, and it was my place to own up.

Admitting mistakes, stepping up to make corrections, and acting in compliance with protocols and regulations are key parts of nursing professionalism.

Off the Job

Nursing professionalism extends to off-the-clock behaviors as well, such as not offering medical advice to family and neighbors and respecting Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations on and off of social media.

The best nurses rise to the top of their specialties because they’ve mastered an enthusiastic attitude, a cooperative manner, and superb professionalism. Forget about working longer hours, potential promotions await those willing to put in the effort of working on themselves first.

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