The importance of soft and hard skills in nursing

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Written By Berry Mathew

Nursing is not known as an effortless job. It is a high-stress job that is incredibly rewarding but not necessarily simple to understand. There are a great many skills these professionals must master in order to provide the best patient care possible, as well as to communicate with fellow nurses and other team members effectively. We have compiled some of the most important and will walk you through them below! We’ll also take a look at the difference between hard skills and soft skills and why each of them is important.

Hard vs. soft skills

Before we examine specific skills, it is important to understand that we’ll discuss two types of skills. Hard skills and soft skills are equally crucial but pertain to different areas of the job. This article explores both types of skills and why each is a critical part of a successful nursing career.

Soft skills

Soft skills are often known as interpersonal skills. They are known as “soft” skills because they don’t revolve around a specific activity. Instead, they are flexible skills that can be adapted to fit various situations. Communication skills, for example, are critical soft skills for nurses. We’ll explore this in more detail later, but good communicators can interact with many different people in a wide range of situations. From calming patient nerves to interacting with physicians and other nurses, soft skills make nurses more effective at their jobs. This, in turn, leads to better patient care and outcomes. Examples of important soft skills in nursing include:

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Empathy
  • Time management
  • Compassion

Unlike hard skills, soft skills are difficult to train. They must be developed by the nurse in question and are difficult for employers to teach. That is not to say that there is nothing they can do to help, of course. Sometimes classes about soft skills can be quite helpful. But when it comes down to it, you must be willing to work on soft skills on your own if you truly want to master them. The change must be internal.

Hard skills

Hard skills are skills that revolve around clinical needs or activities. Reading patient charts, for example, is a hard skill. It is important for a few specific reasons and can’t really be adapted to fit another task. Reading patient charts doesn’t help with placing IVs, for example. For this reason, there are many hard skills that nurses must master before they can become effective at their job. Examples of hard skills in nursing include:

  • Vital signs
  • Tech-savviness
  • Patient safety
  • Urgent care
  • Patient education

Unlike soft skills, hard skills are fairly easy to teach to nurses who have completed their education. They rely on foundational knowledge and often come down to memorization. With enough time and practice, nurses can usually pick up hard skills. These skills are critical for providing clinical care and completing specific tasks.

Why are soft skills important?

The importance of hard skills is self-evident. If nurses cannot read vital signs correctly, for example, they put patients at risk and can’t complete their work. Soft skills are a little more complicated. Their importance typically comes down to patient experience and effective collaboration.

First, soft skills are critical to the patient experience. These are used in almost every aspect of patient encounters and include treating patients with respect and dignity, explaining their health needs to them in a clear manner, and informing them about procedures or treatments they will experience. As you can see, soft skills are the most important when it comes to making patients feel comfortable and giving them the education they need to make informed choices.

In addition to providing a good patient experience, collaboration between healthcare professionals and nurses is common. Good collaborators understand how to effectively communicate patient needs and concerns while building trust-based relationships among the care team. Leadership skills, communication skills, and empathy are all some of the most important skills nurses exhibit every day. Without the ability to interact successfully with other team members, nurses might not be able to provide patients with the care they need and deserve.

As you can see, soft skills are crucial for nurses in several different ways. Next, we’ll take a closer look at both hard and soft skills and the contexts in which they are critical.

Soft skills

Soft skills are the first type of skill we’ll discuss. Remember, these skills are imperative for a multitude of reasons and can make or break a patient’s experience. Here are some of the most important soft skills every nurse should master:

Communication and teamwork

Communication is often used to describe the act of interacting with other people, but the truth is that it is an umbrella term encompassing a great number of other skills. Good communicators understand how to actively listen to their colleagues and patients, observe their patients and fellow team members to identify potential problems or areas where they can help, and speak empathetically. All of these are equally important communication skills for nurses to learn.

Remember that nurses do not work on their own. On the contrary, they are part of a team. They must be able to communicate patient needs to upcoming shift nurses, for example, and be able to help other nurses’ patients if necessary. Both require nurses to interact with team members and clearly explain patient needs as well as where they could use some help. Nurses might technically interact with patients alone (although not always), but the care they provide comes from a strong team.

Critical thinking

Another soft skill nurses should know is critical thinking. Healthcare is not known for relaxing shifts or easy situations. Nurses will often face complex situations with both patients and fellow nurses in the workplace and must be able to assess them and develop effective solutions. Remember that nurses work in extremely dynamic environments, too, which makes being able to quickly weigh pros and cons, make informed decisions, and think critically through the problem at hand.

From making conclusions about patient health to understanding when emergency medical intervention is necessary, nurses must possess solid critical thinking skills.

Time management

Some people might consider time management a hard skill, but we disagree. The ability to organize your time is crucial because it impacts almost every area of your work. You can provide excellent care, but if you deliver it too late, patients will suffer the consequences. Similarly, if your fellow nurses are counting on you to get a specific task done, you must be able to estimate how long that task will take and where you can fit it into your schedule.

Nurses must be extremely detail-oriented, too, with many different deadlines to consider. When should Patient A receive their next round of pain medication? When should Patient B be administered medication to help them breathe properly? All these timelines must be kept in mind as nurses work. As you might imagine, schedules must be quite streamlined in order to accomplish all of these tasks. Time management helps nurses provide the best care possible in routine and emergency situations.

Hard skills

The next round of skills to consider are hard skills. We’ll go through some of the most common hard skills and in what situations nurses need to use them.

Vital signs

Monitoring vital signs and drawing conclusions from them about a patient’s condition is critical to patient safety. Nurses must understand how to monitor and check a patient’s respiration rate, heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure to determine if they are receiving the care they need or require emergency intervention. Understanding vital signs also helps nurses monitor how patients are responding to treatment.

Urgent care

Another hard skill, also known as a “clinical” skill, is providing urgent and, if necessary, emergency care. Note that this is tied to understanding vital signs and requires nurses to recognize life-threatening problems before they lead to tragic outcomes. Basic emergency nursing skills are crucial to nurse success and patient outcomes, and the ability to provide post-surgical care and care for wounds is important in urgent care situations.

Some examples of this kind of care include patients experiencing an allergic reaction as well as those who suffer serious wounds. Even if they do not work in the emergency department, nurses must be able to demonstrate urgent and emergency care skills.


Educating patients and their families and loved ones is another critical clinical skill nurses must master. Most patients need help understanding their health condition and needs, as well as how they must care for it every day. Someone just diagnosed with diabetes, for example, might need information about how to keep their blood sugar at bay and recognize signs of dangerously low or high levels. Similarly, a patient admitted to the hospital with heart concerns must understand what care they need, how they can expect to receive it, and how it can help their recovery.

In the examples above, loved ones and families are critical to caring for patients in the examples above. Once they understand how to keep their loved one healthy, family and friends are invaluable tools.


Nurses used to take extensive handwritten notes to record changing patient conditions as well as track the medications patients received. Today, while some handwritten notes are still used, the majority of this kind of monitoring is done via technology. From vital signs monitors to software designed to determine the optimal amount of medication patients need, nurses must be able to interact with technology successfully.

Patient safety

It might seem as though every aspect of a nurse’s job is tied to patient safety. There is a lot of truth to that statement: nurses must understand patient safety best practices in order to provide their patients with effective and safe experiences. It includes understanding medication administration basics, when to call in another nurse to keep an eye on the patient for a certain procedure, and how to safely lift patients into and out of their beds.

How can I learn these skills?

Now that we’ve gone through these important skills, you might ask yourself how you can master them to become the best nurse possible. The answer lies in a predictable yet often overlooked source: your educational history. In order to learn the best of these skills as well as how to use them in routine as well as high-stress situations, you must be well-trained. Your education is critical for ensuring you receive the information and practice you need to acquire and exhibit all the above skills. Completing your MSN online at a respected university like Elmhurst, for example, can give you a head start even on soft skills by providing the most effective classes available.

Are you interested in learning more about nursing? The list of important hard and soft skills above is in no way exhaustive! There are many different skills to learn. Use the above as a foundation as you move through your school or career, and make sure to always keep an eye out for opportunities to improve.