What Makes a Good Nurse? Key Skills for an Essential Profession

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A nurse at the bedside of an elderly patient

Nurses aim to provide the best possible care to patients while also helping them to maintain good health over time. They may have the same broad goals, but not all nurses are created equal. So, what makes a good nurse? Some nurses have more experience, education, and cross-sectional knowledge — skills that exceptional nurses possess. At the top of the practice-based nursing profession are the nurses who hold a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

The DNP is a degree associated with practice, meaning that the advanced skills a doctoral nursing student learns are grounded in practical experience and real-world application. A DNP program helps prepare nursing professionals to work in specialized advanced nursing while often integrating cutting-edge health care innovations and newly published research, both of which may inform best practices.

As noted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), “The changing demands of [the United States’] complex health care environment require the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise to assure quality patient outcomes.” In answer to the call, many nursing professionals choose to complete a BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, which can provide the key skills for such an essential profession. For those interested in the ins and outs of a BSN to DNP program, details are outlined below.

Laying the Foundation

According to the AACN, the U.S. is facing a shortage of nursing professionals with doctorates. DNP curricula are designed to address and adapt to many of the changing factors in the nursing industry, such as “rapid expansion of knowledge underlying practice; increased complexity of patient care; [and] national concerns about the quality of care and patient safety,” as noted by the AACN.

Developing advanced skills is a crucial part of laying the foundation to excel in an advanced practice nursing role. As such, DNP students often learn the following skills that make a good nurse:

  • Analytical skills
  • Compassion
  • Critical thinking
  • Deep understanding of complex cultural and mental health issues
  • Empathy
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Leadership
  • Patience
  • Technical competency
  • Verbal and written communication

Expanding Skills Through a DNP Program

Of course, students in a DNP program are not learning those skills in a vacuum; they are honing each one to serve as a tool in a specialized advanced practice role. These roles and their associated skill sets are outlined within concentration options, such as pediatrics, family, psychiatric mental health, women’s health, and adult gerontology.

Pediatrics (PNP)

The pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) concentration focuses on the pediatric population, with patients ranging from premature babies to young adults. PNPs provide primary care, with an emphasis on holistic health and development, as well as chronic and acute illness management.

PNPs need to have analytical skills, verbal and written communication competency, leadership, and compassion. When interacting with children, strong analytical skills are crucial, as young patients may not be able to vocalize or may be reluctant to do so even if they can. Analyzing the situation and having compassion for young patients and their families is important not only for understanding a patient’s full health picture but also for building trust.

Family (FNP)

The family nurse practitioner (FNP) concentration helps nursing professionals develop the extensive knowledge and skills needed to provide care to patients, ranging from infants to the elderly, in a family practice environment. Due to the wide array of potential health conditions in this patient population, FNPs usually offer an extensive range of family-centric health care services.

To be effective, FNPs need to have empathy, leadership, interpersonal skills, and analytical competencies. Treating patients of differing ages — sometimes simultaneously if family members come to the office together — requires FNPs to have exceptionally strong interpersonal skills so they can connect with each individual.

Psychiatric Mental Health (PMHNP)

The psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) concentration focuses on working with individuals, families, and communities with mental health needs. PMHNPs assess, diagnose, and treat patients who have mental disorders or the potential to develop them.

PMHNPs generally have a specific set of advanced skills, including technical competency, compassion, interpersonal skills, and a deep understanding of mental health issues. Assessing the mental state of patients is often a complex task, as a mental disorder is not as often apparent as a physical ailment may be. To properly analyze and then recommend the best course of treatment, PMHNPs must use their compassion and interpersonal skills to build trust with patients, as well as have an extensive understanding of psychiatric issues from which to draw information.

Women’s Health (WHNP)

The women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) concentration is designed for nurses looking to specialize in the comprehensive care of women over a lifetime. Within such a wide possibility of women’s health areas, WHNPs may further specialize in reproductive, gynecological, or obstetric health.

To provide the best care to women, WHNPs need to have empathy, decision-making skills, clear communication competency, and a deep understanding of cultural issues. One of the most important skills a WHNP can develop is the ability to acknowledge cultural dynamics and integrate them into care practices. For example, being knowledgeable in local and state regulations regarding women’s health allows WHNPs to share that information with patients so they can make informed decisions.

Adult Gerontology (AGNP)

The adult-gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP) concentration focuses on treating adolescent, adult, and elderly patients. As adult gerontology is such a broad spectrum, many AGNPs choose to further specialize in areas such as diabetes, palliative care, and health policy.

AGNPs possess empathy, leadership, patience, and critical-thinking skills, which help them assess, diagnose, and treat the adults in their care. Due to the range of patients AGNPs may interact with, even over the course of a single day, they need to demonstrate patience and think critically while providing empathetic care to each one.

Sharpening Skills Through Coursework

Students sharpen the skills relevant to the five concentrations mentioned above by completing specific coursework throughout a DNP program. To illustrate, here are a few highlights from Regis College’s online BSN to DNP curriculum.

Concepts in Nurse Leadership

This course explores different leadership styles commonly utilized in advanced practice nursing (APN), as well as how an understanding of these styles can help students become strong leaders. It sharpens students’ leadership, interpersonal, and communication skills by prompting them to understand and employ the types of leadership styles they may experience in the workplace and use in their own careers.

Advanced Health Assessment

This course focuses on various evaluation techniques, demonstrating how a deeper understanding of evaluation practices can improve patient care. Understanding evaluation practices lays the foundation for a nursing professional to develop advanced analytical and critical-thinking skills, which may have a direct impact on the accuracy of health assessment and subsequent patient care.

Health Policy, Politics, and Perspectives

This course examines the role of policy in the context of health care delivery and how having strong knowledge in this area can directly affect care and patient outcomes. Throughout the course, students gain a deeper understanding of the socioeconomic factors that may inform a nursing professional’s perspective while caring for patients, ultimately leading to a more comprehensive health care setting.

Roles and Issues in APN

This course helps students discover the challenges that APN entails, such as evolving health care regulations and the increasing influx of technology. It explains how earning an advanced degree can equip students with the tools to face these challenges. Throughout the course, students sharpen their understanding of cultural context, technological competencies, and leadership in advanced nursing practice spaces by examining challenges and exploring industry solutions.

Online BSN to DNP Curriculum

Many nursing professionals choose to develop and refine the skills that make a good nurse through an advanced degree program, such as Regis College’s online BSN to DNP. The advanced coursework helps students sharpen the abilities that best suit their chosen specializations. For more curriculum information and a complete list of courses, please visit the online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program website.

Recommended Readings
Nursing Skills for Resume Building: How DNPs Translate Evidence into Practice
DNP vs. PhD: Prioritize Clinical Nursing or Nursing Research Careers with Your Degree
Why Earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice: Potential DNP Salary and Career Outcomes

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Fact Sheet
Regis College, Online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice