What Makes A Good Nurse?

February 15, 2016
Ryan Gray, MD
Ryan Gray, MD

Ryan Gray, MD, is a former Air Force Flight Surgeon. He is now helping premed students overcome obstacles on their journey to become physicians at the Medical School Headquarters.

Monitoring the health of patients around the clock is a challenging job. From the physician’s standpoint, that is just one aspect of what happens during the day. It’s even more challenging to meet the many other needs that patients have, such as answering questions and keeping them happy and comfortable. Good nurses know how to juggle all these jobs, and many more

Monitoring the health of patients around the clock is a challenging job. From the physician’s standpoint, that is just one aspect of what happens during the day. It’s even more challenging to meet the many other needs that patients have, such as answering questions and keeping them happy and comfortable. Good nurses know how to juggle all these jobs, and many more.

In my last post, I discussed some specific things that good nurses do to help make our jobs (and lives) as physicians easier. I believe that good nurses have certain personality traits and characteristics that help them to do their jobs well. Here’s a list of 6:

1. An extroverted nature. Nurses have to be outgoing and enjoy being around people in order to do their jobs well. They have to be able to engage with patients and their families and find out what they need in order to provide the best possible care. An extroverted nature helps them feel energized by patient contact instead of worn out or aggravated.

2. Excellent communication skills. When it comes to communication, nurses have to be able to adapt their communication style to achieve the best result. Nurses must deal with all types of people, including physicians, other nurses, patients and families. And, to make things even more challenging, nurses often have to communicate with people who are angry, stressed or sad. They also need to translate complicated medical jargon into written and spoken language that patients can understand and be quick-thinking when patients ask questions about their care and treatment.

3. Compassion. Caring for patients requires nurses to be compassionate and empathize with what patients are feeling—physically and emotionally. A nurse without a compassionate nature can quickly become frustrated, annoyed or curt with patients. Compassion and empathy work together to help good nurses advocate for their patients.

4. Ability to multitask. A good nurse cannot have a one-track mind. To stay afloat in a busy physician’s office or hospital ward, nurses must be able to quickly jump from one task to another without missing a beat. Often, they will be caring for patients with diverse needs, charting, helping physicians, answering questions, making phone calls and performing minor medical procedures—all within a couple minutes.

5. A great memory. Good nurses have the ability to remember specific details about patients—and I’m not just talking about when the patient last received medication or the last blood pressure reading. Nurses who can recall specific information about each patient—such as family members’ names, where a patient lives and a patient’s favorite food or sports team—are able to provide personalized care. These nurses also are able to share a bit of background about a patient’s personal life, helping physicians to create a bond during often-brief patient interactions. Of course, good nurses also remember the medical details so they can fill in the physician or the next nurse on duty.

6. Powers of observation. Perceptiveness in a nurse can be a life-saving virtue. Expert nurses will identify a problematic symptom or side effect and bring it to the attention of the physician before it causes disastrous complications. They also pick up on patient needs and advocate for appropriate support, such as referrals to social service organizations, more face time with physician or better pain control.

If you are surrounded by nurses that possess these characteristics, you can count yourself as a very lucky physician. If you’ve ever been a patient or had family being treated by one of these nurses, you know the impact that they’ve made on you and your family.

Good nurses can make a huge impact on patient care. Unfortunately, bad nurses also have a tremendous impact on patient care. That’s why it is imperative to your success as a physician that you hire and retain a high-quality group of nurses (or, if you aren’t in charge of human resources, that you advocate for good hires where you work).

It’s also crucial to treat all nurses (even those that do possess these characteristics) with the utmost respect. These nurses are a crucial part of the team. Don’t forget that!

In my next post, I’ll discuss how to spot a bad nurse before it’s too late—preferably before they are hired or have a chance to provide significant patient care.