5 Characteristics of a Successful Nurse

characteristics of successful nurse

  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Attention to Detail
  • Communication
  • Flexibility

Nursing requires much more than medical expertise; in fact, some of the characteristics of a successful nurse have nothing to do with education. Instead, the things that set excellent nurses apart from the crowd are softer skills that have to do with interpersonal interactions and personal behavior. By instilling these characteristics into action, it’s possible to become a beloved, highly successful nurse.


At its core, nursing is about caring for people. Often, patients are terrified of the unknown and worried about their health. That’s why the most important nursing characteristic is empathy. When a nurse can understand what a patient might be feeling, they’re better able to provide kind, emotionally supportive service. This type of empathetic care can go a long way toward reducing patient stress — which in turn helps them stay calm, accept treatment, and focus on getting well. Empathy also helps nurses build a rapport with patients and families, which makes for a better healthcare experience all around.


Nurses interact with patients during their most raw and vulnerable moments. They’re privy to confidential information, sensitive health histories, and intimate personal details. For that reason, respect is one of the most important characteristics that nurses need to be successful. Great nurses respect each patient’s privacy and take great care to help them maintain their dignity throughout treatment. This process requires them to maintain boundaries and create a professional relationship. To help patients feel comfortable and safe, nurses must treat everyone equally, regardless of their background, socioeconomic status, or condition. This extends to coworkers and family members, as well.

Attention to Detail

Over the course of a normal day, nurses attend to many different patients. They administer medications, treat wounds, monitor vital stats, and keep a close eye on each person’s health. Then, they must chart each of these actions accurately and frequently. That’s where attention to detail comes in — a successful nurse must be able to notice, track, and record each detail of a patient’s health. In doing so, they assist the rest of the healthcare team in making diagnoses and spotting potential problems before they spiral out of control.


Nursing comes with a great deal of communication — with patients, families, coworkers, and other medical professionals. In one day, a nurse might explain a patient’s healthcare situation to a family member, chat with the patient as they dispense medications, call doctors to discuss a troubling symptom, and work with pharmacists to order correct medications. One of the characteristics that makes nurses successful is the ability to flip between each of these communication styles easily. With doctors, great nurses use technical jargon and medical terminology; with families and patients, the nurse might use less intimidating language that’s easier for a layperson to understand.


In a healthcare setting, situations can change quickly. Patients can get sicker, and symptoms can arise out of nowhere; sometimes, these shifts are dangerous and scary. That’s why flexibility is crucial. Nurses must be able to adapt to new conditions and adjust their care accordingly. Often, they may need to take fast, decisive action in order to prevent a patient from declining. To be flexible, nurses need to think on their feet, be confident in their knowledge, and come up with creative solutions. This flexibility also applies to scheduling; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses often need to work nights, weekends, and holidays.

Nursing is a noble profession; it’s as rewarding as it is challenging. With the right characteristics for nursing success, it’s possible to provide excellent care that makes a positive impact in patients’ lives.

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