What makes a great nurse – and do you have what it takes?
6 mins read

What makes a great nurse – and do you have what it takes?

Nursing is one of the most challenging and rewarding career paths open to millions right now. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all clear on how much we rely on our talented nursing specialists – but what are some of the more common attributes you would need if you want to excel in the role?

Nursing requires years of training and dedication in the first instance. This is a role where you’ll need passion and drive as standard. Beyond these initial points, let’s take a look at some further traits and skills that will take you far in a nursing career.

A genuine desire to ‘care’

You should always enter nursing wanting to care for people. This is a role where you’re making incredible differences to people’s health, and in some cases, it’s the difference between life and death.

If you want to do good for the world around you, nursing puts you in a prime position to do so. You’ll need an exceptional bedside manner and genuinely want to see your patients improve.

One of the biggest rewards of a career in nursing is seeing all the patients you treat and care for start to get better – thanks to your skills and choices. Doing good simply feels good!


Empathy skills are crucial for helping to reassure patients and their families. Being in a hospital can be scary, no matter what you’re there for. As such, nurses need to practice the ‘human act’ of empathy – which goes hand in hand with being willing to care.

Empathy also helps you grow as a nurse. Empathetic nurses communicate better with their patients and get to the heart of problems quicker. It’s so important to see your patients as people with genuine problems, never as just another job on your workload.

The will to learn

As mentioned, nursing takes years of study and practice. As such, you will need to be a voracious learner who thrives on building knowledge and actively wants to learn more about their patients’ problems.

If you’re thinking of becoming a second career nurse – be willing to put time and effort into learning and developing. A distance learning course such as an accelerated BSN can help you build incredible knowledge at a rapid pace.

However, you’ll still be learning on the job even when you start at your first hospital. There will always be new ways to treat different people and different conditions.

Nursing can be incredibly rewarding if you love to constantly grow your experience, repertoire and knowledge. This isn’t a role where you’ll learn everything you need to know before getting started – but education at a leading university is an asset.


Nurses are impressive workers – they’re on call all hours of the day and night. When they’re on shift, they may be on demand 12 hours at a time, if not longer. Therefore, you’re going to need to have the stamina to work long shifts.

What’s more, during these shifts, you’ll likely need to lift and move various patients. Strength is a must on top of stamina! While you’ll likely work with other nurses and medical staff at any given clinic, stamina is vital if you need to manage patients independently at any given moment.

You don’t have to be a gold medalist to succeed as a nurse, but fitness is a must if you really want to do right by your patients.

Great communication skills

Without communication skills, nursing becomes even harder. You not only need to build great rapport with your patients, but you also need to communicate clearly with other nurses and staff in your team. This is vital to ensuring that your patients get the care and treatment they need.

Listening and comprehension skills are also vital in nursing. You should never risk losing crucial details on treatment plans or where a patient should head to next in your hospital. You should also be able to read charts and make decisions from various information available to you.

In return, you need to communicate this information clearly to patients and their families and report to specialists, supervisors, and other team members.

Critical thinking

Are you a born problem solver? If so, you may just be a great nurse in waiting. Nurses need to think on their feet and make complex decisions from a complicated, ever-changing set of problems and puzzles.

Every patient you treat will be slightly different. You can use skills and treatments you’ve learned from previous patients to help build your knowledge, but each ‘puzzle’ will present itself in a different way.

Be willing to think deeply about patient concerns and potential treatments. You’ll have a team of people to back you up in most cases, but there will be times when you’ll need to make decisions entirely on your own. Therefore, always be ready to troubleshoot.


Alongside empathy, optimism is an absolute must for nursing success. The best clinics worldwide benefit from nurses who are always willing to go that extra mile or two simply because they believe that their patients will recover and thrive. Without optimism, you won’t go very far in any clinic environment!

Optimistic nurses help patients realize that they can get better. In cases where treatments may not help, optimistic nurses help patients see the silver lining – and help them to get comfortable. This is not toxic positivity – rather, it’s the willingness and the spirit to keep going in the face of all kinds of pressure and adversity. It’s a very admirable trait!

All nurses are different!

Of course, all nurses are different regarding their personalities and approaches to care. However, the best are clear communicators, are empathetic, have positive attitudes, and aren’t afraid to solve complex issues quickly.

The one requisite you’ll need to start in any kind of nursing career is the desire to care for other people. You’ll be making a positive difference to thousands of lives!

It’s an exciting working environment to grow in – if you have the traits above and more besides, why not consider branching out into the healthcare sector?