Take Ownership of Your Nursing Knowledge and Skills

Take Ownership of Your Nursing Knowledge and Skills

Nurses are invaluable members of the healthcare workforce, and when you’re proactively building a nursing career that you can fully embrace and be proud of, there are plenty of strategies and mindset hacks to consider.

One of the greatest assets you carry as a nurse is the many skills you’ve worked hard to acquire. So, if you want to boost your self-confidence and make the most of your nursing career, it’s wise to humbly take full ownership of the many things you know and the incredible skill sets that make you the outstanding nurse (and human being) you are.take-ownership-of-your-nursing-knowledge-and-skills

Knowledge is Power

It’s been said since time immemorial that knowledge is power. The things you know — including how to leverage the soft and hard skills you have under your belt — are central to what makes your nursing mind tick, and articulating what those are is crucial.

In nursing school, you studied and read like a madperson, wrote care plans (sorry to bring that up), learned to apply the nursing process (you may be sorry I brought that up), and turned your non-nurses mind into a nurse’s mind. I bet there are things your professors said that you still hear in your head, and some of those may be helpful. “If it wasn’t documented, it never happened” was one truism I heard repeatedly during my nursing education, and I never forgot it. What sticks with you?

After the crazy nursing school journey, the rubber hits the proverbial road when you start working as a nurse out in the real world. Some skills and knowledge were entirely theoretical during school, of course. But when you’re working as a nurse and solely responsible for the care of your patients, you can bet that those wheels are turning, and the smoke is coming out of your ears as the pieces fall into your mind.

If you’re a generalist (e.g., med/surg, internal medicine, primary care), you may not delve deeply into cardiac arrhythmia, chemotherapy regimens, or other specialized areas of knowledge and practice. But you’ll need to know a little about everything since you never know what will walk through that door. A generalist may seem from the outside like a jack of all trades and master of none, but you can rest assured that these nurses know their stuff and have all sorts of knowledge that makes them amazing. 

As for nurses who specialize in diabetes, stroke, cancer, labor and delivery, trauma, critical care, or other areas of hyper clinical focus, their knowledge is going to run deep about some very specialized concepts, treatment regimens, and diseases, and that knowledge is worth more than we can say.

Knowledge is power, so acknowledging and expressing what you know is a skill in and of itself. And if you’re job-hunting, being able to write and talk freely about why you’re fantastic is part of the sales pitch that will help you land the position of your dreams.

Your Multifaceted Skills

When we think of nursing skills, we often think of so-called hard skills like venipuncture, rhythm interpretation, wound debridement, or ventilator management. We also need to remember that the 21st-century nurse has computer skills, including using EMRs and other technologies.

In the interpersonal realm, there are skills related to communication, including emotional and relational intelligence, counseling, and active listening. We can also point to patient and family education or the education and training of other nurses (e.g., precepting or mentoring).

Meanwhile, we can’t forget all-important leadership skills, whether as a charge nurse, a director of nursing, or a chief nursing officer. Leadership can also be a skill we naturally demonstrate on the job, even if we don’t have a title beyond “staff nurse.”

You might also have skills in medical writing, grant writing, research, sales, case management, or other areas where you find yourself. Many nurses do important non-clinical work, and their knowledge and skills are equally valuable.

The list of skills and knowledge that a nurse’s mind holds is like an ever-expanding encyclopedia.

The Humble Brag

Whether you’re gunning for a promotion, interviewing for an awesome job, applying for a grant or fellowship, or being interviewed on a nursing podcast, your confidence comes from your ability to own what you know and what you can do, as well as the overall value of your “nurseness.”

If you’re feeling glum about your nursing career, pull out a sheet of paper and try to list every piece of helpful nursing and medical knowledge you have in your head. Chances are you’d need to fill page after page with every tidbit of knowledge you can claim as your own. And if you also included a list of your many skills, you’ll likely fill an entire notebook.

You can proclaim your value, assertively list your knowledge and skills, and still live and work in a place of humility. Being humble doesn’t mean you can’t take ownership of what makes you who you are. It means you don’t have to boast about it or lord it over others. The “humble brag” will serve you just fine: state it as a fact without emotion, and you can get your point across without fuss.

Rejoice in your nurse’s mind and everything it holds, and enjoy the clear knowledge of the value of your numerous skills. You’re a valuable member of the healthcare community, and owning your worth is a powerful place to be.

Three Qualities Every Great Nurse Should Possess

Three Qualities Every Great Nurse Should Possess

As an individual who holds himself to a high professional standard, I have grown to recognize three distinctive qualities that I believe every great nurse should possess: compassion, integrity, and perseverance.

Compassion is not merely the sympathy you show toward a friend or family member in need, but rather the empathy that drives you to act on an inner desire to help those around you. In the summer of 2008, I was fortunate to take part in a medical mission trip overseas serving the underserved populations in the Philippines. During my time abroad, I was inspired by the amount of compassion the nurses and medical staff exemplified in the clinical setting. As a volunteer, I was astonished not only by the sheer magnitude of homelessness that has stricken the country, but also by the positive impact that I was making on a daily basis. By allowing myself to be immersed in the service of others, I have grown to appreciate the many blessings that God has given me, and develop an unyielding compassion toward others that I believe is essential in today’s rapidly growing society.

The second quality that I believe a great nurse must possess is integrity. Integrity means doing the right thing at all times and in all circumstances, whether or not anyone is watching. During my tenure as an emergency room nurse, I was assigned to care for a little girl complaining of a headache. The father confided in me that her symptoms began after she was inadvertently hit in the head with a soccer ball. The medical doctor on staff quickly dismissed the girl as having a “minor headache” and told the father that ice and rest was all that she required. As a nurse of integrity, I did not feel comfortable sending the little girl home after she confided in me that she never had a headache this painful before. Seeing her grimace in pain, I urgently requested the doctor to have a computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan prepared for the patient. Despite the doctor’s initial objection and reluctance, he finally agreed, and upon evaluation of the final results, we discovered a small intracranial hemorrhage that was beginning to form. Seeing the tears of gratitude the father displayed allowed me to recognize the importance of doing the right thing even in the midst of adversity. It was this realization that has continued to fuel my innate desire to remain truthful and transparent in all aspects of my nursing care while fostering the deep interpersonal relationships that I form with my patients.

Lastly, the quality of perseverance plays a vital role in determining an excellent nurse. When I first began nursing school, I was completely unprepared for the academic expectations that were required of me. Due to my immaturity, my grades suffered immensely during the early stages of my academic career and I was humiliated and rejected from numerous nursing schools. Despite the constant vilification and dejection that seemed to surround me during this tremendously dark period of my life, I remained optimistic knowing that I had a purpose in this world. Within the next couple of months, I decided to make a conscientious effort to become more academically driven and was eventually accepted into West Coast University’s nursing program where I excelled scholastically, receiving numerous awards such as the Perennial Dean’s List, the Kaiser Permanente RN Scholarship, and ultimately culminating to my successful graduation in 2013.

As I look back on what I have accomplished over the years, I feel extremely blessed to have been surrounded by amazing individuals who inspired me to be the nurse that I am today. And it is because of this realization that I have come to recognize that being a great nurse is not measured by how intelligent you are but rather your commitment to providing indelible and compassionate care to those who seek it.

Why Transferable Skills Are a Big Deal

Why Transferable Skills Are a Big Deal

Job seekers hear a lot about transferable skills. And anyone in the nursing profession will hear about transferable skills even more. Within a profession that’s so broad and provides skills that are easily adapted to many roles, nurses should always be aware of how their skills are valuable marketable assets that will be a benefit in many roles.

That means an ER nurse can show how excellent critical thinking skills are just as important in a charge nurse role. A flight nurse’s ability to adapt to unpredictable conditions could transfer to a travel nurse role or would be valuable in an administrator position.

Whether you’re looking for a new job, considering a lateral move to another area of nursing, or just think it’s time to advocate for a promotion or a pay raise, understanding the true value of your transferable skills is essential.

You might be surprised at how broad your skills really are. Here’s why it matters.

Knowing your value makes it easier to explain how you can adapt to a new role.

Knowing your skill set is essential. But taking the extra step of connecting your skills in your daily job with skills you’ll need in new pursuits is especially telling. You might find you’re much more qualified than you think. And when you can demonstrate that in your resume or in an interview, your chances of reaching your goals are that much greater.

Your skills make you valuable.

When it comes time for a review, stating how much you do for your organization gives you leverage. If you leave, your skills go with you. That means your replacement will have to learn the ropes of how your organization works, how teams operate most efficiently and effectively, and what the routines are. You also take your own personal expertise at nuances like accurately assessing pain levels, communicating with families in crisis, or working with pediatric patients. You shouldn’t demand a raise, but you can matter-of-factly explain how your skills benefit your organization.

Other organizations need your skills.

If you are considering a move to a new area of nursing, you probably know your nursing degree has equipped you with the most essential skills. But any other capabilities you have developed in your current role can also be valuable in a new role. You just have to think about how. When you apply for a position that is different from what you do now, showing your adaptability reveals your understanding of how you are a good candidate.

The more skilled you are, the more money you can make.

Let’s face it: the more skills you have mastered means you can earn a bigger salary. But if you don’t toot your own horn every now and then, no one will know about it. Are you the kind of nurse who learns constantly? Do you have certifications or do you investigate complex conditions you sometimes see in your patients? Are you a nurse who is diligent about becoming culturally competent? Make sure your supervisor knows about it all.

It’s a confidence boost.

You know how much you do but you might not always know the entire scope until you pull it together. Even if you aren’t looking for a new job, it helps to continually add to your list of skills and understand what those skills would look like in another role. When the time comes to look for a new job (or when you’ve had a particularly tough week and need a pat on the back), your list will come in handy.

Skills for Success: What Every New Nurse Needs

Skills for Success: What Every New Nurse Needs

No one can say nursing is a stagnant profession. Even freshly minted grads can feel they are scrambling to keep up with new procedures, technologies, treatments, and processes. If you’re a nurse, you might start to wonder what skills you will need to succeed and stay current in the coming years.

There are a few qualities shared by all successful nurses. Being an excellent multitasker, having empathy, and being nearly obsessed with details never failed a nurse. No matter what your specialty, your location, or your aspirations, experts agree that a few skills in your wheelhouse will not only advance your career, but also help you satisfy your goals of being the best nurse for your patients.

“The first thing you have to have if you want to be the best nurse possible is you have to really want to do it,” says Leigh Goldstein, assistant professor of clinical nursing at the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing. “You really have to want to be a nurse and not just bring people pills and plump pillows. To get there, you have to put in the hours and put in the study. There’s that little thing in you that tells you, ‘This is it,’” says Goldstein. “It makes learning all the other skills easier.”

LaDonna Northington, DNP, RN, BC, professor of nursing and the director of the traditional nursing program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, agrees that nurses need a passion for the job. “This is not for the faint of heart,” she says.

Looking ahead, here are some of the essential skills nurses will need to meet job demands at any career juncture.

Develop Critical Thinking/Critical Reasoning

The best nurse thinks outside the box. Adapting to changing situations, unique patient presentations, unusual medication combinations, and a rotating team takes awareness. Assessing and evaluating the whole picture by using the critical thinking developed in school and on the job is essential to success. 

“Nursing is not like working in a bank,” says Goldstein. “It’s not 9 to 5. It’s always a unique set of circumstances. You have to tailor and adjust the care you deliver based on the picture the patient is giving you.”

According to Northington, nothing in nursing is static. Nurses can’t usually just treat one patient issue—they have to determine how the patient’s diagnosis or disease has affected them across the lifespan, she says. And nurses have to consider not just the best choice for the patient and the best option for the nurse right now, but they also have to consider those things in light of the city they are in, the timing, and the resources they have at hand or that are available to them.

Make Friends with Technology 

Nursing moves fast, but technological advances are sometimes even faster. While new nurses might lack years of direct patient experience, they often have essential technological familiarity. “Most nurses are probably aware that the world of electronics has just taken over,” says Barbara Vaughn, RN, BSN, BS, CCM, chief nursing officer of Baylor Medical Center in Carrollton, Texas. “The more senior nurses who didn’t grow up in the technology world tend to struggle more than nurses who grew up with that.”

With apps that allow nurses to determine medication dosages and interactions and websites that allow patients access to electronic health records, technology is an integral part of modern nursing. “Technology is changing how we practice and will change how nurses function in the future,” says Vaughn.The benefits are incredible. Instead of having to make the time-consuming drive into the ER when needed for an emergency, a specialist might now be able to save precious minutes by first examining a patient remotely with the help of monitors and even robotic devices. Nurses will have to adapt to this new way of doing things.

Nurses have to practice with technology to gain a fluent understanding, says Vaughn. Vaughn, who is studying for her PhD, says she didn’t grow up with online training as the norm, so when her new classes required online work, she wasn’t prepared. Realizing this could be a hindrance, Vaughn asked newer nurses about how to do things, and she practiced navigating the system until she became better at it.

Whether you are accessing patient records, navigating online requirements for a class, or learning a new medication scanning program, technology will improve your work day and help you take better care of your patients. In the meantime, Vaughn just recommends playing around with the computer when faced with something new. In her own department, Vaughn recalls some nurses who were especially stressed out about learning the new electronic health records system. With training and practice, they excelled. “They were later identified as superusers for their unit,” says Vaughn with a laugh.

Adapt to the Broader Picture

With all these developments comes new and greater responsibility. 

“As an inpatient nurse, you used to worry about the 4 to 6 days when the patient was under your care,” says Vaughn. “Now if you are in a hospital based setting, you are going to be more involved in patient population health.” That means an inpatient nurse not only has to get the whole story of what happened before the patient arrived at the hospital, but also think about working with the care team to give specific instructions for when patients get home that will be practical.

“The more specialized medicine gets, the more fragmented health care becomes,” says Northington. Technology and that broad view can help reign that all in—and nurses need to know how the puzzle pieces fit together and where and how patients are receiving care.

“More patients will be followed in nontraditional health care settings,” says Vaughn. “Our world and the world we know is going to change,” says Vaughn of the health care industry. With more patients being followed by health care centers in easily accessed sites like Walmart and Walgreens, telemedicine is going to become more important to understand and to navigate.

Practice Effective Communication

Thirty years ago, communication about patient care was effective, but certainly not at today’s level, says Northington. “We have to communicate,” she says. “You have to ask, ‘What do you know that I don’t know that can help this patient?’ or ‘Are these therapies contradictory?’ Nurses are in that integral place to facilitate that interprofessional education and communication.”

Good communication isn’t always easy. Beth Boynton, RN, MS, author of Successful Nurse Communication, says the most effective communication is based in speaking up and in listening.

Especially in fast-paced and dynamic health care settings, the underlying interpersonal relationships can have a huge impact on how colleagues communicate and relate to each other. Nurses need to not only recognize the dynamics at play, but also learn how to work within the environment. 

“We all think this is easy,” says Boynton, “but we have to recognize this is harder than meets the eye. Be patient with the learning curve.” Nurses might be assertive about speaking up for their patients’ needs, but not for their own, explains Boynton. So, as nurses look to the future, they should be mindful of not only fine-tuning their ability to speak up, but also listening to both patients and colleagues in return without judgment so everyone can work towards the best possible outcome.

Stay Current

“The nurse of the future has to stay committed to learning,” says Northington. “Take what the research is saying and use the best practices. Ask the questions like, ‘Why are we doing it that way?’ and ‘What can I do differently that will produce a better outcome?’”

To be the best nurse, you must stay current in the newest developments. Take the time to learn new procedures, but also recognize where your skills need updating. For example, if you know you’ll need to deal with chest tubes, don’t just assume you’ll know what to do when the time comes. Make an active effort to gain current experience.

Develop Mentoring Relationships

Every nurse needs a mentor. It doesn’t matter what your role is, how many years of experience you have, or even how many months you have been practicing. If you want to advance and learn the intangible skills needed to excel in nursing, you need to actively cultivate a mentoring relationship. Nurse mentors are often found at work, through networks, or within professional organizations.

Refine Your Personal Compass

A little bit of a thick skin will do wonders for any career nurse. “You have to defend your patient from everyone and take care of them,” says Goldstein. That means when a physician makes a call you disagree with or you overhear an unfriendly comment, you need to speak up when it matters and let it roll when it doesn’t.

And some of the personal work nurses have to do isn’t easy, including reflecting on and adjusting for any personal feelings or prejudices they have about patients in an open and honest manner. “We need to be able to take care of people no matter what their circumstances or color or what they did to get here,” says Goldstein. “You can’t treat patients differently. You need to take care of them and not make a judgment.”

Prepare for the Unexpected

You never know what your day will bring, so lots of personal reflection, discussions with others in your profession, and cultivating skills can help you when you are faced with something you’ve never had to deal with before. 

“I think whether you are starting out as a new nurse or you are a seasoned nurse, nursing care is constantly changing, and being flexible to those changes is paramount,” says Princess Holt, BSN, RN, a nurse in the invasive cardiology department at Baylor Medical Center in Carrollton, Texas. It’s not easy, she says, to constantly adapt to new approaches and new practices, but nurses need to sharpen their focus. “When I get frustrated, I always go back to put myself in the mindset of my patient I am caring for or of my physician who is making this order or of the family I am taking care of to find new ways of looking at it. It grounds me and helps me understand.”

Developing all the coping skills to deal with job stress is a personal approach that nurses will cultivate as they go.

New nurses don’t always take care of themselves and the emotional baggage you take with you,” says Goldstein. “You have to incorporate those experiences into a coping strategy that you have to develop on your own. Every nurse needs to figure out what they need to do to handle that.” And if you aren’t able to really learn how to cope, nurses must have the skills to either recognize that some kind of career shift is necessary (maybe even just moving from the ER to postpartum, suggests Goldstein) or to be open to hearing it when others recognize it.

Recognize Your Private Life Impacts Your Career

Nurses have to realize their career choice is 24/7. And while you have to balance your life and leave the hospital behind, you also have to somehow adapt to always being a nurse first. Family picnics can turn into a mini diagnosis session, neighbors might ask you to look at a child’s rash, and your private life can impact your job very directly in a way that won’t happen in other professions. “Nurses are held to a higher standard than the average citizen,” says Goldstein.

Learn Where to Learn

Yes, nurses in school learn the hands-on nursing skills like hand hygiene and infection control, says Goldstein, but, like any nursing skill, mastering them takes time. 

Some hospitals have new nurse orientation programs that help new nurses acclimate to the setting, but if you don’t have that option, rely on your own observations, ask questions, and take classes to help get you up to speed. When you’re on the job, watch others to see how they incorporate things like patient safety into their routine interactions with patients. And Holt, who has worked in departments from ER to interventional radiology, says moving around builds skills. “I have seen it all,” she says, “and there is still more to see.”

Put It All Together

When nurses consider all the skills they need to succeed, some are easier to gain than others. “You need to understand what goes on behind all the mechanics,” says Northington. “It’s the knowledge behind the skills you need. They can teach nurses things. Nurses have the rest of their lives to learn things. We need nurses who know how to think, to problem solve, [and] who know when they are in over their heads to call for help. The most dangerous nurse is one who doesn’t ask a question.” 

And nurses must keep moving forward and adapting even when the pace seems relentless. “We’ve come a long way,” says Northington. “And in 20 years, nursing won’t look like it looks now. Nursing is one of the best careers because it’s always evolving.”

Should You Relocate? Three Things to Consider

Should You Relocate? Three Things to Consider

Have you ever dreamed of living in another region? Have you often wondered if your location is a career roadblock?

Relocating for your career or for a desired lifestyle change is sometimes the best move for nurses and one that is frequently available to nurses specifically. Nursing skills are needed in all areas and a move can not only bring a career boost, but much needed personal change as well.

Before you start packing, there are a few things you need to consider. “Out of the gate, everyone should know their carrot or their reason for wanting to relocate,” says an account executive for a major healthcare staffing company specializing in the permanent placement of registered nurses staff to vp level. What you must decide, she says, is this: “What is your carrot?”

1. Career Advancement

If you feel like you cannot progress in your job where you are, relocation might be your ticket to more responsibility or a new career path. Standards vary by region, so if you are moving to an area where most nurses have advanced degrees, understand that will be something most employers will expect. But other regions may offer you great opportunities with your current education level or even give you prospects while you earn another degree. Set some short-term and long-term goals so you know where you want your career to take you. Will relocating help you reach those goals?

2. Family

Would you like to live closer to family members or even put a little distance between you and your loved ones? Do you and your spouse dream of retiring to a certain area in 10 to 15 years? Family is a big reason for wanting to move and you can take your career with you, but make sure you consider all the factors. If you have kids, investigate the schools. Check out home or rental prices to see if they are compatible with your expectations and budget. Be sure to look at the big picture when you think of making a move.

3. Economy

What is going on where you live? Is your region booming with nursing jobs or is it impossibly competitive to land a desired position? Some regions of the country are looking for nurses to fill spots and others are so tight that someone has to move or retire before anything opens up. If you want more responsibility or a bigger salary, you might look into other regions. You could find a job that pays better, gets you closer to your ultimate career goal, and is more stable somewhere else.

So, what is your carrot?