Skills Development for Nursing Students


When we think of a nurse going about their day at work, we usually think of the “hard skills” they’ve learned in nursing school: inserting an IV, checking blood pressure, and administering medication. But these scientific and evidence-based practices are only part of the picture. Soft skills are just as crucial to patient safety and well-being.

What Are Soft Skills?

“Soft skills are personal attributes that are necessary to succeed in any work environment, including nursing,” writes Valerie Dziados, MSN, CRNP, ANP-C, AGACNP-C, for Lippincott Nursing Center. In other words, these skills do not involve technical know-how, but are more related to emotional intelligence. In emphasizing technical skills required in the field, nursing education may be missing opportunities to focus on developing soft skills. Dziados goes on to explain, “Undeveloped soft skills can lead to medical errors, unhealthy/unproductive work environments, job dissatisfaction, and unfavorable patient survey results, which can adversely affect hospital reimbursement.”

What Soft Skills Should Nurses Possess?

According to Zack Smith, BSN, RN, writing for NurseGrid, there are more than 25 soft skills nurses should have to provide optimal patient care. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these skills:


Communication is key for many reasons, whether nurses are talking to patients, other nurses, doctors, or administrators. When nurses can communicate well with patients, they are likely to get a more complete picture of the patient’s condition, which allows for a more accurate diagnosis. Nurses can then communicate that information to the physician, again improving patient outcomes. Communication among nurses is also critical as nurses who change shifts update the next nurse on patients’ conditions. Knowing information that may not be in a chart can save lives or at least ease a patient’s anxiety. Good communication also leads to good patient care teams.

Nurse educators may develop students’ communications skills by choosing to deliver performance-based assessments in place of a more traditional assessment type. If delivering a written exam, consider including fewer multiple-choice items in favor of more short-answer and essay questions, which prompt students to explain their thoughts and reasoning behind their answers.


Patients are not cared for by individuals; it takes a cohesive team. The World Health Organization (WHO) has found that a well-coordinated team minimizes “adverse events caused by errors in communication and an inadequate understanding of professional roles.”

To be a successful team member, nurses need to focus on communication, respect, and accountability while keeping workplace culture in mind. According the NurseJournal, nurses who work in strong teams have higher job satisfaction and report greater levels of well-being. Incorporating team activities and projects throughout the curriculum can help students develop skills for effective collaboration with fellow nurses and medical professionals down the road.

Stress Management

Managing stress is key to a rewarding career in any field, but in healthcare, it can be the difference between life and death. For example, the Mayo Clinic has found that stress can cause a host of problems including lack of focus, irritability, anxiety, and more — all of which can lead to poor patient care as well as burnout and other health concerns for nurses.

To help manage stress, “10 Crucial Soft Skills for Nurses” suggests taking personal time away from work and practicing individualized self-care. Nursing programs can be rigorous and time-consuming for students, but teaching stress-management techniques for students to manage the rigors of their program can help them to better prioritize self-care throughout their careers.


Professionalism is more than wearing appropriate clothes and being respectful to your team members and patients — though of course those are important parts of any nurse’s career. Nurses who consistently show professionalism put their patients at ease during a stressful time when they may be dealing with a life-altering health crisis in an unfamiliar environment. And when patients are less stressed, their chances of recovery and their experience in a clinical setting often improve.

Performance assessments can be useful in developing students’ skills in professionalism. Asking students to participate in a simulation of a scenario that they are likely to encounter as nurses can help them understand how their professional responsibilities are connected to their demeanor and dress.

Empathy and Compassion

Health conditions that require professional help, particularly those requiring a hospital visit, are stressful, sometimes extremely so. A nurse who can listen with compassion and empathy can alleviate a significant amount of stress, which can lead to improved health outcomes. Phillip Barr, MD, notes, “Any kind of disorder that is already going on in that organ system can be made worse by stress.” Relieving stress won’t cure most diseases, but it can improve outcomes.

Role-playing activities can help students develop empathy for the patient populations they will one day serve. According to Jeanne Carey, RN, CHSE-A, “Role-play simulation engages learners in real-life situations or scenarios that can be stressful, unfamiliar, complex, or controversial, requiring them to examine personal feelings toward others and their circumstances. This type of simulation encourages students to think more critically about complex and controversial subjects and to see situations from different perspectives.”

Critical Thinking

Nicholas McGowan, BSN, RN, CCRN, says this of critical thinking as it relates to healthcare: “[It is] necessary for problem-solving and decision-making by healthcare providers. It is a process where people use a logical process to gather information and take purposeful action based on their evaluation.” Critical thinking is important for positive patient outcomes, as not all diseases present in the same way and nurses must consider many variables. Assessments that involve comparative analysis or mock patient files can help students decide on the best course of action when faced with a specific scenario or list of symptoms.

Critical thinking also plays an essential role for students in employing necessary soft skills as nurses. Being able to effectively problem-solve and make informed decisions is important for determining when, how, and in what way to present certain soft skills.

Clinical Judgment for the Next Generation NCLEX®

Over the past decade, the NCSBN (National Council of State Boards of Nursing) recognized the increasingly complicated decisions that new nurses had to make as the patient population grew older and illnesses became more complex. They realized that the current licensure exam, the NCLEX, did not address critical thinking or clinical judgment sufficiently to prepare these nurses to be successful as they began their careers. With this in mind, the NCSBN created the Next Generation NCLEX to address this gap.

To help nurse educators prepare students for the Next Generation NCLEX, ExamSoft partnered with NurseThink® to create Clinical Judgment Exams (CJE). These exams and question banks, written by expert nurse educators and clinicians, are aligned with the content and question types nursing students will see on the Next Generation NCLEX. ExamSoft has even built solutions to mimic the new question types that will be on the new high-stakes exam.

Using this assessment tool, nurse educators can develop critical thinking and clinical judgment skills in their students, for not only increased pass rates but improved patient outcomes.

Contact us for more information on the CJE from NurseThink® and ExamSoft.


Lippincott Nursing Center: Top 10 Soft Skills for Nurses

NurseGrid: How to Teach and Learn Soft Skills

WHO: Patient Safety Curriculum Guide: Multi-Professional Edition

NurseJournal: 10 Crucial Soft Skills for Nurses

Mayo Clinic: Stress Management

Everyday Health: Is Stress Making You Sicker? Signs You Should Never Ignore

Healthy Simulation: Role-Play: A Healthcare Simulation Strategy for Teaching Problem-Solving, Communication, & Self-Awareness

NurseJournal: The Value of Critical Thinking in Nursing

NCSBN: Next Generation NCLEX Project

Published: August 11, 2022

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