Nursing Skills (Definition and Examples)

Updated 20 November 2022

Nurses use a combination of technical and soft skills to improve the health and wellbeing of their patients. Understanding the skills nurses need can help you decide if becoming a nurse is the right decision for your career. If you pursue a career in nursing, you'll need to develop nursing skills and show these skills to secure employment. In this article, we explore what nursing skills are, note some key nursing skills and explain how to develop and prove your own nursing skills.

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What are nursing skills?

Nursing skills are the abilities nurses need to succeed in their careers. The skills of nurses can be classified as hard skills, learned through formal education or training, and soft skills, which may come naturally or through experience. Nurses usually learn most of their hard nursing skills through university study. They then develop their soft nursing skills from experiences like spending time with patients.

10 examples of nursing skills

The skills that nurses use vary depending on their place of work and the patients they see. However, the following 10 are some of the most common skills needed to be a nurse:

1. Communication

Nurses rely on their communication skills to interact with other nurses, doctors, patients and their loved ones. They should be able to speak clearly and explain medical concepts in simple terms that patients and their loved ones can understand. Verbal communication skills can help nurses inform other nurses and doctors of their patients' health. They rely on their listening skills to learn about their patients' histories and current conditions. Their written communication skills help them document clear and comprehensive patient notes.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

2. Patient assessment

Nurses assess patients and monitor their condition to ensure their health progresses as expected. This involves measuring their vital signs and identifying other causes for concerns, such as a change in mood or appearance. They must understand how patients usually respond to surgery and medications. If they notice anything unusual, they must notify a senior nurse or doctor.

3. Critical thinking

Critical thinking is a nursing skill that helps nurses make judgements based on their patient assessments. They may suggest different treatments for patients recovering slowly or experiencing side effects. They may bring their suggestions to senior nurses and doctors and collaborate with them on a new approach for better patient care.

Related: Critical Thinking Skills: Definitions and Examples

4. Patient nutrition

Proper nutrition is essential for patient recovery. While some patients are well enough to feed themselves, others require nurses to use their patient nutrition skills. This may involve helping patients with limited mobility eat or inserting cannulas, so patients can receive nutrition intravenously.

5. Wound care

Nurses use their wound care skills when caring for patients with wounds from injuries and pressure ulcers. These nursing technical skills include cleaning and bandaging wounds, collecting wound swabs and teaching patients and their caregivers how to care for wounds. Communicating about wound care helps patients receive the right treatment for their wounds at home.

6. Medication administration

Nurses administer medications prescribed by doctors and other authorised parties. This process can require some technical skills when administering medications through injections. Nurses must also take care to give the right medication to the right patients at the right dose at the right time and using the right method.

7. Risk prevention

Nurses use their risk prevention skills to keep patients in their care safe. They identify potential hazards and take steps to reduce their impact. For example, if they see patients are unsteady on their feet they may provide physical support to help them safely use the toilet. They may also arrange for a wheelchair to help them move more safely around the facility.

8. Teamwork

Nurses work in medical teams to deliver comprehensive care to their patients. Their teamwork skills help them cooperate with other team members for the best patient outcomes. These skills include problem-solving, conflict resolution, and negotiation.

Related: Teamwork Skills: Definitions and Examples

9. Personal care and hygiene

Nurses must practise good personal care and hygiene to reduce the risk of spreading contagious diseases. It is also important for maintaining a comfortable environment as nurses are often in close proximity to patients. Using disposable gloves and masks, washing hands carefully and properly disposing of waste can all improve personal care and hygiene standards.

10. Emotional support and grief management

Dealing with chronic health conditions, illnesses and injuries can be challenging, but nurses with emotional support skills can help patients and their loved ones navigate this trying time. Nurses learn to treat patients with dignity and maintain their privacy. They use compassion and empathy to help patients and their loved ones feel understood. When patients die, nurses apply their grief management skills to support bereaved family members and friends.

Ways to improve your nursing skills

Improving your registered nurse skills can help you secure a new nursing position or advance to senior nursing roles. You can improve your nursing skills in the following ways:

  • Enrol in a postgraduate nursing degree. Practising nurses need at least a bachelor's degree, such as a Bachelor of Nursing or a Bachelor of Science (majoring in Nursing). You can develop your hard skills for nursing by enrolling in a postgraduate nursing degree, such as a Master of Nursing Advanced Practice or Master of Nursing (Nurse Practitioner).

  • Join a professional nursing organisation. Professional organisations such as the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association and the Australian College of Nursing offer education and training opportunities for members interested in developing their nursing hard skills.

  • Work with a mentor. A senior nurse can help identify your skills that need improvement and suggest practical ways in which you can do so.

  • Volunteer in your community. Volunteering with an organisation such as St. John's Ambulance or a local aged care facility can help you give back to your community while honing your nursing skills.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Volunteer Experience

How to highlight your nursing skills during your job search

Highlighting your nursing skills during your job search helps potential employers understand why they should hire you. Consider the most relevant skills for each position you are interested in and mention them on your cover letter, resume, and during your job interviews.

List nursing skills on your cover letter

Your cover letter provides your first opportunity to showcase your nursing skills and make a strong first impression on a potential new employer. Identify two or three of the nursing skills you'll need for each role and explain how you have demonstrated these skills. For example, if you are applying for a position in an aged care home you might mention your experience with wound care.

List nursing skills on your resume

You should list your nursing skills in the resume summary, career history and key skills sections of your resume. Highlighting your nursing skills in your resume summary helps an employer see at a glance the value you'll add to their health organisation. For example, your resume summary might read “Compassionate neonatal intensive care nurse with four years experience in neonatal care dedicated to emotionally supporting new parents.”

Add your relevant nursing skills to the descriptions of key responsibilities and achievements in your career history section. For example, an entry in your career history section may read:

Career history

Registered paediatric nurse at Westmead Children's Hospital

June 2017- March 2020

Key responsibilities

  • Assessing children and teenage patients and documenting their medical history and symptoms for doctors

  • Administering medications and vaccinations

  • Providing emotional support for patients and family members and educating them about health status and treatments


  • Named 'Nurse of the Year' in 2019 by patients' parents, a title recognising commitment to the emotional support of patients and their families

Note the essential and preferred skills listed in the job advertisement and any other skills that similar jobs call for. Mention these skills in your key skills section. For example, your key skills section may read:

Key skills

Wound care, risk prevention and mobility assistance, grief management, verbal and written communication.

Discuss your nursing skills during a job interview

As nursing skills are the most essential for nursing positions, you should have plenty of opportunities to discuss these skills during your job interviews. Use specific examples and anecdotes that show how you've applied your skills. These examples will help an employer understand your skills and how they could benefit their healthcare facility. You might mention your paid experience, volunteer experience and any relevant personal experience, such as caring for an elderly relative.

Consider which stories showcase your nursing skills best, ahead of time. This preparation will help you answer the interviewer's questions confidently using the most relevant and persuasive examples. Think carefully about the skills that are most relevant for the role you're applying for and make sure you have examples that showcase these. This is especially important if you're transitioning into a different area of nursing which may require a different skill set.

Related: 10 Nursing Interview Questions and Answers

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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