How to Be a Better Nurse: Areas of Improvement for RNs Who Want to Elevate Patient Care
Great nurses are a real treasure. We all know them: intelligent, compassionate, empathetic. They manage to shine a light even during a patient’s darkest experiences. They’re careful, attentive, and responsible. The devotion with which they care for patients is unmatched. In trying to make the world a little better every day, they spare no effort. Great nurses are their patients’ lucky charms and their colleagues’ role models.
Naturally, when you embark on your nursing journey, you aspire to be that nurse. The goal you set for yourself at the starting line is to become a great nurse. So, you constantly search for ways to improve your work performance in nursing. You’re always on the lookout for nursing tips on how to better care for your patients. You’ll leave no stone unturned if it means improving your nursing skills.
How do I become a better nurse? How do I provide better care to my patients? How can I improve my nursing skills? If these questions have become part of your everyday routine, you are already on the path to becoming a successful nurse.
And we’re here to help you get there faster. Here are some tips on how to fulfill your potential and become the greatest RN you can be.
Never Stop Learning
If we were to make a Top three ways to improve work performance in nursing, the highest-ranking advice would be never to stop learning. The education of a Registered Nurse does not end when the last paper is submitted, and the final exam is passed. Good nurses recognize the value of lifelong learning.
In the nursing profession, changes, improvements, and developments are a common occurrence. New information comes out every day. More efficient ways to provide care are making their way into nursing practice. New technologies are introduced aiming to assist nurses and improve the quality of care. The expansion of telehealth nursing is adding an extra layer of responsibility. The shift towards a paperless healthcare environment is taking the nursing world by storm. The rate of change and improvement in nursing will never stop, and neither should you.
Hanging on to the way things used to be done and complaining about having “one more thing to learn” is the sign of a bad nurse, and you don’t want to touch that label with a ten-foot pole. More importantly, refusing to grow as a professional and being unwilling to change your practices can put your career at risk and your patients in jeopardy.
There are many options for learning and advancement for the awesome nurses who are eager to work on themselves, update their skills, and become better caregivers.
You can join a local professional organization, subscribe to a nursing journal in your field, or attend nursing conferences that pique your interest. Additionally, you can enroll in continuing education courses. Continuing nursing education impacts your competency as a Registered Nurse, enhances your professional development, and paves the way to become a better nurse.
Another excellent idea if you would like to develop professionally further as a nurse is to seek certification. Becoming a certified nurse helps you advance your expertise and skills in a particular area of nursing. When you have your knowledge validated through certification, you become a better nurse and more confident, more efficient. Certification and recertification help you stay on top of your field, always up to date with the newest information, constantly aware of the best nursing practices.
As long as you stay committed to learning, you will be a great RN. And it’s not only you who will win as a result. So will your patients and the healthcare field, in general.
Check and Double-Check
It doesn’t matter if you are a fresh graduate who’s just starting a nursing job or you are a seasoned RN – you always need to double-check your work. It may seem like a small thing, but it will significantly improve your nursing practice. Review your charting throughout the day and at the end of your shift. Ensure you have listed all your actions: all the procedures you performed, the medications you administered, the diagnostic tests you ran. Every interaction between the nurse and the patient matters, and you want to make certain they are carefully and accurately documented.
Double-checking is especially important when it comes to medication administration. Always ask yourself: Is it the right drug? Is this the prescribed dose? Is this route of administration the right one? Even verify “Is this the right patient?”
Chances are, one day, you’ll feel exhausted, distracted, or burnt out, so the risk of making a nursing mistake will increase exponentially. Independent double-checks can detect up to 95% of errors. You need to develop the habit of double-checking your work and your charting from the beginning of your nursing career. Your patients will be safer, and you’ll become a better nurse.
Don’t Save Time by Cutting Corners
Life as a nurse is busy. You may feel tired and overworked and think to yourself, “no harm will come if I don’t change my gloves between procedures,” or “I’m sure the patient will take the medication. There’s no need to stick around in the room for that.” You cut corners today, tomorrow, and eventually, it becomes a habit. It’s often the little things: rushing through an assessment, forgetting to wear or change gloves, failing to wash your hands as often as you’re supposed, cleaning the equipment only superficially.
But this practice of cutting corners is highly detrimental to effective patient care. It can lead to many preventable adverse events. Infections, overdoses, allergic reactions, and many more medical problems can spring from a nurse’s desire to save a few minutes. If you follow safety measures and never skip essential steps, you can avoid lots of potentially dangerous nursing mistakes.
Not cutting corners is also a way to protect your license, practice, and integrity as a nurse. This is an area for improvement that’s entirely in your control.
Focus on the People
Many times nurses become so task-oriented that they momentarily lose track of what got them into nursing in the first place. They get so wrapped up in the multitude of their duties that they sometimes fail to be fully present when interacting with a patient.
However, this doesn’t fall in line with the person-centric approach at the heart of our healthcare system. Patient care may be continuously evolving. Technology, access to information, increased learning opportunities – all improve patient care. However, one thing that stays the same is the patient’s expectations. They want and expect to receive high-quality care; they want to be treated with respect and have their needs met.
What makes a great nurse is a connection to the people. It’s giving your patient undivided attention when you are in their room. It’s being driven by a desire to always do right by your patients. It’s never losing focus: this job is about the patients and you making their lives a little better.
There are some little steps you can take to be people-oriented instead of task-oriented. You can only be in one place at a time, so be fully there. When you go into a patient’s room, they are the only one who matters. Don’t think if the patient in 203 received his meds or if the nurse before you changed the sheets in 215. Focus on the patient in front of you. Address them by their name. Give them a run-through of what you are going to do, of what their care plan includes. Maintain eye contact. It helps establish a connection between you and the patient while also conveying empathy and compassion. Ask them if they need anything or if you can assist them in any way before you leave. Concentrating on the patient in the whirlwind of tasks you have to complete may not be the easiest thing, but it’s a vital nursing skill. Improve in this area, and you will improve as a nurse.
Don’t Be Embarrassed to Ask Questions
One who is afraid of asking questions is ashamed of learning. Never be ashamed of learning. In nursing, not asking a question can mean the difference between life and death. Of course, this doesn’t mean not doing your job because you’re too busy questioning everything.
Ask questions whenever you are unsure about a procedure. Go to the more experienced RNs if you need advice on the best way to provide care to a patient or if you need assistance in making the situation safer. Seeking guidance, especially at the beginning of your nursing career, is a sign of strength and commitment. It shows that you want to be a better nurse. Learning to take advantage of your fellow nurses’ expertise and knowledge is a potential area of growth for many RNs.
You need to know that nursing is a team effort, and asking questions can help you become a better team member. And, in the end, everyone stands to gain from it.
Don’t Forget to Put Yourself First
We have mentioned how essential it is to focus on the patient and give them your undivided care and attention. But you know who else deserves the same treatment? You. You need to take good care of yourself. It is the only way to be able to take good care of your patients.
If you see yourself struggling to sleep and eat; if you lose interest in the job that once brought you so much joy; if you want to call in sick to work all the time; if you’re highly irritable and less compassionate – all of these are symptoms you’re experiencing burnout. And burnt out nurses are much more prone to cutting corners, making errors, and experiencing compassion fatigue. They can be a danger to themselves and their patients.
Overworked nurses are in the same boat. They feel like they hate being a nurse. Maybe the boss is controlling, they don’t get along with their co-workers, or a patient is extremely rude. Being overworked will amplify these feelings and, eventually, their wellbeing, professionalism, and job satisfaction will be negatively affected.
That’s why taking care of your mental and physical health is of paramount importance. You need to develop a regular sleep schedule; you need to set boundaries and take breaks. It’s also essential that you process your feelings and ask for support when things get too hard to handle.
Our most important nursing tip? Don’t underestimate how detrimental burnout can be. Learn how to recognize its signs and what you can do to prevent it. Understand that only by being better to yourself you’ll manage to be better to your patients.
Treat Technology Like the Friend It Is
In today’s digital age, technological advancement moves fast. A few years ago, nurses were using pen and paper to record all the patient information. Now, with more and more healthcare organizations shifting to Electronic Health Records, paper filing methods are becoming a thing of the past.
Automated IV pumps are being increasingly used in hospitals. Nurses can control and change the drip dosage and program the duration and rate of fluid deliveries through in-built interfaces. Automated IV pumps are a safer way of administering fluids intravenously. Plus, not having to measure and administer the medication or food manually allows RNs to direct their focus elsewhere, freeing up time to complete other tasks.
Smart beds can be used to track movement, weight and even a patient’s vitals, increasing their safety and comfort during hospital stays. Wearable devices and mobile apps make telehealth nursing a lot more effective.
Technology is ingrained in healthcare, and EHR, automated IV pumps, portable monitors, and wearable devices are just a few examples of how nursing is adapting to the current times. Technology is only going to evolve, and nurses will have to adjust.
Improving your nursing technology skills is a great way to ensure you stay on top of the field. Especially for the nurses unused to technology, learning to navigate technology can seem frustrating and unnecessary. But training and practice will come a long way. And you can always ask other nurses for advice or assistance as they may be more familiar with the technology. Nursing is a team effort, after all.
Hone Your Communication Skills
Communication is one of the most fundamental nursing skills. If you want to become a successful RN, you need to master it. Whether talking to your fellow nurses, debriefing with the doctors, or educating the patients, efficient communication is at the core of good nursing practice.
It might take some time to become proficient in nurse communication. At first, when you have to report to a physician, you may find yourself nervous and shivering, not knowing how to approach the situation at hand. When you interact with a patient, especially as a beginner nurse, you might use so much medical jargon in your explanations that you leave the patient even more confused. But as long as you keep sharpening your communication skills, you will become a better nurse.
You can try using the SBAR technique to communicate efficiently with other healthcare professionals. SBAR is an acronym for Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendations – and it’s an excellent framework for sharing your patient’s condition with the doctor or other members of the medical team. This easy-to-remember mechanism can help you become a more effective communicator within your organization.
Another potential area for improvement for nurses is their communication with patients. Always make sure the patients understand and follow what you’re saying, especially when explaining care plans. Try to avoid using too many acronyms. Terms like CBC, ITT, LFT, or RDA may seem easy to understand to you, but remember that not everyone has nursing school experience. When you interact with patients, they should comprehend what you’re saying. That doesn’t mean you have to talk down to them. Just treat them with respect. Patient education is an integral part of your job as a nurse. Improve your communication skills, and the ability to educate your patients will follow.
Find a Mentor
Nurse mentorship – either formal or informal – is crucial to the education and training of new nurses. It helps them prepare better for the challenges of the real-world healthcare workplace. When you’re just starting your nursing career, the pressures and intensity of the job may take you by surprise. You’ll find yourself in need of guidance and advice. You’ll want to hear about other nurses’ clinical experiences so that you improve your own work performance. Cue the Nurse mentor.
A Nurse mentor will be a role model, motivator, and supporter. They’ll help you grow accustomed to the workplace. They will aid you in developing the nursing skills needed to excel in your practice. By listening and considering their experiences and expertise, you’ll learn the critical competencies required to deliver effective patient care.
You can find a nurse mentor at work, through certain networking events, or within professional organizations. Just remember that learning from others is a great way to become a better nurse yourself.
Be Ready for Everything
Last but not least, if you want to be a good nurse, you have to be ready for everything at all times. Each day will bring its own challenges. Your expertise will be put under the microscope. Your patience may hang by a thread. The plan for the shift will change in an instant when something unpredictable comes up – and it will.
It’s usually a great idea to start your workday with a plan. But it’s equally important to be flexible and ready to adjust the plan as you go. There will be twists and turns, and you need to tackle each of them gracefully and professionally. Nursing is a fast-paced field. It requires lots of attention, critical thinking, and on-the-spot decision-making. So, being adaptable and ready for the unexpected is an important area for RNs to improve.
Bonus Tip: Don’t Forget to Enjoy It
Yes, nursing has its challenges. No two days – nor two patients – are the same. Some shifts will be longer, and some days you’ll feel drained of energy. You have to keep learning for the rest of your life. But it’s all worth it because you get to pursue one of the most fulfilling professions in the world. You save lives for a living, and that’s pretty awesome. So, enjoy it. You worked hard to get here. Take a minute to appreciate yourself and your achievement. You’ll be a better RN because of it.
Are You Ready to Become a Great Nurse?
Do you have what it takes to be a great nurse? We sure think so. Do you want to know why?
Because you are here now looking for ways to become a better nurse and improve the quality of patient care you offer. Because you are committed to self-improvement and a firm believer in lifelong learning. Because when you find an area in your practice that could benefit from some improvement, you get to work.
It’s your incredible care-giving nature that makes you a good nurse. And it’s your commitment to excellence that will make you a great one.
Advance your education with our RN-to-BSN program!