There are two types of skill sets which student nurses need to develop: hard skills and soft skills. Both are extremely critical to nursing and patient care. Hard skills are the hands-on, technical/ procedural skills you learn in labs and clinicals which allow you to perform your job effectively. They include things like taking vital signs, administering medication, providing wound care, starting IVs, and inserting catheters.

Soft skills are the social skills you need to communicate effectively and get along in the workplace. Soft skills include “personality traits, positivity, cordiality, work ethic, dependability, workplace etiquette, behavioral competence, emotional intelligence, reliability, communication style, personal habits, optimistic attitude, interaction, and unspoken social graces that come together to render someone a desirable employee” (Hard, n.d., para. 8). Soft skills are so important in nursing that they are sometimes seen as more valuable than hard skills and technical knowledge. The thought is that technical skills can be taught more easily than soft skills, which tend to be personal characteristics or skills that have been developed over a period of time (Hard, n.d.). Employers are very aware of their value.

"Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference." — Winston Churchill

Soft skills that are especially critical for nurses include excellent communication and interpersonal interaction skills, leadership/management abilities, professionalism, flexibility, a positive attitude, the ability to work well under pressure, a sense of commitment, and being a team player, creative thinker, and problem solver. Here’s why they are important skills for nurses to have:


As a nurse, it’s important that you are able to listen, understand, and give instructions. When communicating with patients and colleagues, you need to get your point across without being forceful or uncompromising. Unlike most other professions, you also need to be able to handle face-to-face and phone interactions with patients, family, and friends that can be accompanied by tears, anger, and even violence. You should also be comfortable voicing your opinions in an appropriate manner to someone in a position of authority even when you disagree, especially when it involves patient care (Liebrecht, n.d.).

Interpersonal Interaction

Patients report that the better the interactions are with their nurses the more they are satisfied with the care they’ve received. Given this, some things you should do when interacting with patients include making and maintaining eye contact, being aware of your patient’s and your own facial and body language, listening to your patient and not just hearing what they’ve said, and being positive and friendly (Liebrecht, n.d.).

Leadership/Management Skills

Nurses don’t start out in management, but leadership qualities are valued by employers who look for people who lead by example, are constantly looking to improve, are self-motivated and positive, show initiative, and know when to follow directions. Set a good example for those around you to follow, and you’ll be seen as a leader (National, n.d.).

Work Ethic and Commitment

Nurse managers look for nurses who are reliable, dedicated, productive, and cooperative because these things increase productivity and strengthen the nursing team. They are also looking for nurses with strong character who are diligent, honest, trustworthy, and have a strong work ethic. According to National Careers Service (n.d.) employers want people who are dependable, reliable, enthusiastic, and enjoy hard work. Employees that are committed need very little supervision or motivation to do their best and get the job done.

Flexibility and Attitude

In nursing, a patient’s condition can change quickly as can the duties you perform. This requires you to be adaptable and flexible. It’s important that you take things in stride while remaining positive and upbeat; doing so will make your patients comfortable and more positive as well (National, n.d.).

Being a Team Player

A good team player works with others to achieve the team’s goals, so you need to be willing to listen to others, be open and honest, and offer helpful suggestions. You may need to jump in to help fellow employees when you have the time; if you do, there’s a good chance that other nurses will do the same for you. In general, most people don’t mind helping people who are willing to help others.

Creativity and Problem-Solving Skills

The ability to apply both logic and creativity to solve problems is a highly valued trait as well. If you’re the kind of person who tries to see the solution as well as the problem, you’ll be a great employee (National, n.d.). Good critical thinking skills and the ability to think outside the box are necessary and make you more productive.

Ability to Work Under Pressure

Nurses find themselves in a high stress environment much of the time they are at work. How you handle yourself when you’re under pressure says a lot about you. You should be able to decide quickly which approach will achieve the best results and then get the job done; you need to be using critical thinking skills as you do so. Employers want to know you can put stress aside and focus on the task in front of you (National, n.d.).

These are just some of the many soft skills that effective nurses have and use along with their technical skills. They are especially important to nurses because of the environment in which they work and the kinds of clients with which they interact. If you don’t have some of these critical soft skills, you should work on developing them. Certain ones are easier to improve upon, while others may be more difficult, but a positive attitude and confidence in your abilities can go a long way.

If you have these skills, be sure to highlight them on your resume and application forms, and develop interesting examples of when you’ve used them in your work or personal life to talk about when interviewing for jobs (National, n.d.). Keeping up with school work, a job, and/or children requires you to be good at managing your time, working under pressure, being creative and communicating well. These skills are necessary for nursing too, so make sure to let potential employers know this too.

Make sure you communicate your passion for nursing whenever you can. Nurse managers are seeking nurses who don’t consider their job just a paycheck., and you never know when you might be speaking with someone that can see your passion and be in a position to further your career.

As nurses, you are being taught the technical skills necessary to provide patient care, but it’s just as or more important that you develop or sharpen the soft skills necessary to take patient care to the next level. When competing for jobs with others with the same education and training, your soft skills may well be what sets you apart. Keep in mind that technical skills can be taught more easily than soft skills, so take some time to evaluate and develop your soft skills.

Provided by Beth Smith, Hondros College of Nursing Librarian. For more information on HCON's library services please email


Hard and soft skills. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Liebrecht, T. (n.d.). Teaching soft skills of nursing through reflective role play. Retrieved from

National Careers Service. (n.d.). What are the ‘soft skills’ employers want? Retrieved from