What Makes a Good Nurse? 5 Underrated Traits

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Written by Morganne Skinner, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A group of nurses in blue scrubs demonstrate what makes a good nurse.

Being a nurse is not for the faint of heart. Nurses are often depicted holding a patient’s hand, which might convey that a nurse’s primary role is to nurture. The truth is, a nurse’s professional role is much more complex than that.

What makes a good nurse is more than a degree or certification. It extends to their personality, qualities, and characteristics. Nursing is both an art and science. Good nurses have the competence and knowledge to perform nursing interventions, along with the ability and capacity to comfort patients and create safe spaces.

Whether you’re reading this to prepare for your next nursing interview or trying to learn more and grow professionally, we’ll share some expert insights about what makes a good nurse. We’ll explain what a good nurse is, how you can become one, and the five important (and sometimes underrated) traits good nurses have: integrity, advocacy, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and passion.

What Is a Good Nurse?

The definition of a good nurse will vary depending on whom you ask. For example, a patient may say that a good nurse is someone who comforts them when they are ill and responds to their call bell quickly. A manager may say a good nurse is one who is reliable, updates their board promptly, completes all documentation, and follows hospital/facility policy.

How to Be a Good Nurse

You are already on the right track by reading this article and asking what makes a good nurse — it shows you are dedicated and curious about self-improvement. It’s important that nurses constantly learn, as science is evolving and nurses should be aware of current best practices.

Along with continuing education, there are a number of common characteristics and qualities that you can develop and strengthen. Read the list below and identify the areas you can build upon.

Five Qualities of a Good Nurse

  1. Integrity: They’re not afraid to go against the grain.
  2. Advocacy: They advocate for patients, even if they don’t agree with them.
  3. Critical thinking: They question everything.
  4. Emotional intelligence: They know how to read the room.
  5. Passion: They truly care, and patients and peers can feel it.

1. Integrity

Integrity means being honest and not compromising on moral and ethical values. Nurses with integrity have a strong moral compass. They are driven to do what’s right and are not afraid to go against the grain.

They also have high standards. They are not okay with things being done halfway, partially, or poorly. As a result, some nurses are regarded as having type A personalities. This trait can be incredibly powerful in promoting patient safety, improving patient outcomes, and providing excellent patient care.

For example: You are assisting a coworker in inserting a catheter. The nurse has their sterile gloves on and soils the gloves, proceeding with the procedure. You stop them and say, “Hey, I noticed your gloves became soiled, so we’ll need to start over. I brought an extra kit just in case.”

2. Advocacy

Nurses must be patient advocates — it is nonnegotiable. As a nurse, you spend way more time with patients than their doctors do. You may be the one a patient voices their true concerns to, such as a hesitance to undergo a surgery or a conflict between medical treatment and their cultural beliefs. It is the duty of a nurse to speak up for patients, regardless of whether a nurse agrees with them or not.

A majority of the time, patients are in a vulnerable state when interacting with healthcare. They may not know what questions to ask or feel too afraid to ask them. Often, patients bring some amount of trauma to the table, which can hinder their ability to speak up for themselves. Nurses have the opportunity to create a safe environment, build trust, and alleviate anxiety by being a voice for them.

The qualities of what makes a good nurse also extend to you and how you care for yourself. You also have to advocate for your needs. For example, you need to take your break, request safe nurse-patient ratios, and ensure you take assignments that you are prepared and equipped for. Implementing this self-advocacy can improve your well-being, decrease burnout and turnover, and even lead to better patient care.

3. Critical Thinking

If we could boil it down to one thing, critical thinking is what makes a good nurse. Critical thinking refers to the mental process of analyzing and synthesizing information collected through observation, experience, and communication that leads to a decision. It is an essential skill for safe, quality nursing practice and patient care. In practice, this can look like questioning doctor’s orders and performing nursing interventions.

As a nurse, you have to question each action you are implementing because your actions have the potential to greatly harm another human being. You have to ask questions. Why is this patient having these symptoms? Why are they acting this way?

For example: A patient has an order that states they cannot use straws due to intracranial pressure. They also have an order for incentive spirometer use every two hours. Critical thinking would require the nurse to consider both orders, reflect upon knowledge of typical order sets and post-surgical care, identify the contradiction, and consult the doctor for clarification.

4. Emotional Intelligence

The best nurses read these three things: the room, between the lines, and people. They are in tune with what other people are feeling, picking up on subtle shifts in the room’s energy. They catch the hesitancy in a patient’s voice, indicating a misunderstanding or unmet need. All of this helps nurses identify the right time for patient education or the need to have difficult conversations with family members.

Emotional intelligence also helps nurses understand and manage their own emotions. This allows them to communicate more effectively, demonstrate empathy, alleviate stress, and deescalate or prevent conflicts. It can also be a self-preserving measure, helping nurses withstand the volatility and trauma they face in their career.

5. Passion

The final quality on the list of what makes a good nurse is passion. You need to have a solid “why.” Nursing is taxing. It will test you emotionally, physically, and mentally. Having a purpose can ground you during the stressful, difficult, draining seasons.

A passionate nurse is self-motivated to be involved in committees, desires to make lasting impacts on patients, and is dedicated to lifelong learning. They really, truly care about the profession and their patients — and those around them can feel it.

Passion functions as a fire within the nurse that cannot be extinguished by external elements. It helps nurses withstand periods of staff turnover, a change in nurse-patient ratios, and dealing with difficult coworkers. It helps them persevere and persist through tumultuous times.

Become the Best Nurse You Can Be

Now that you’ve learned what makes a good nurse, are you ready to be one? If you want to find a job you love, learn how IntelyCare can match you with nursing jobs that would be a great fit.