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The Most Essential Critical Thinking Skills in Nursing

  • Critical thinking skills in nursing are vital in promoting positive patient outcomes.
  • Do you feel confident in your skills?
  • From problem-solving to performing thorough observations and analyses, there are so many essential critical thinking skills in nursing to know!

NCC News & Content Team

October 08, 2021
Simmons University

Critical thinking is a skill you learn and fine-tune through life experiences, and in healthcare, it is essential for positive patient outcomes. It is the cornerstone of quality nursing practice and is exercised continually while caring for patients.  

Although it can be challenging to gauge how good or bad you believe your critical thinking skills are now, there is always room for improvement!  

If you are looking to brush up on your skills, we’ve got you covered! Check out our guide to the most essential critical thinking skills in nursing.  

It is never too late to brush up on your critical thinking skills, and there is always room for improvement!  

What Are the Most Essential Critical Thinking Skills in Nursing?

1. Distinguishing facts and opinions

Whether you are discussing a care plan with a physician, or obtaining information from a patient’s family member, you must be able to filter out opinions and focus on facts that are pertinent to your patient’s health.  

Critical thinking will allow you to sort through large volumes of information and apply the most relevant information to the given situation. This skill requires the evaluation of multiple variables and factors while considering the desired outcome. 

The ability to hone in on only the pertinent information while disregarding anything extra is vital in your position as the nurse.  

One tip that I have learned through my experiences is recognizing that opinions can be based on facts, but not all opinions are factual.  Facts are based on validated truths.

For example, it is a fact that ACE inhibitors reduce blood pressure. Conversely, it is opinion that ACE inhibitors have been overprescribed for hypertension and lifestyle factors should be emphasized more.  

2. Practicing open-mindedness

As a nurse, you are going to be in constant communication with physicians, colleagues, patients, and their family members daily.  

Everyone comes from a different walk of life, and as I am sure you know already, some perspectives may vary from your own. 

In order to master the most essential critical thinking skills in nursing, having an open mind is a great place to start.  

Practicing open-mindedness does not mean you believe everything you hear, it is actually quite the opposite – it means that you are confident enough in your beliefs and logic behind those that you can consider other viewpoints.  

In order to practice open-mindedness, you need to first understand your own beliefs.  

Next, you need to begin to view situations from the viewpoints of others and try to understand why they feel differently than you. This can be challenging at first. 

 The ability to understand where others are coming from and how they reach a conclusion is the true meaning of open-mindedness. It is one of the most essential critical thinking skills in nursing that you can adopt into your daily practice.  



3. Problem-solving

Whether your team is short-staffed on a Saturday night or the entire EMR system is shut down, a critical thinker in nursing is always on their toes and ready to develop a solution for any problem. 

Problem-solving in nursing requires knowledge, effort, and dedication when finding the best possible solution to an issue. 

Whether it is a patient who is not complying with his or her current treatment plan, or you are navigating through a resource shortage, there are many instances where you will need to think quickly, weigh out pros and cons, and act. All of this is problem-solving.   

4. Observing and analyzing

Assessing, observing, and analyzing are all major aspects of the tried-and-true nursing process 

This is one of the most important critical thinking skills in nursing because it plays a major role in your day-to-day tasks. 

Whether you are simply collecting a patient history or taking vitals, there is a lot going on subconsciously.  

Sure, you may think you are just checking BP, but behind the scenes, you are also observing the patient’s body language to ensure they are comfortable. This happens day-in-and-day-out.  

An ability to thoroughly observe, analyze, and accurately report and respond are all major components of your job as a nurse, which is why it is one of the most essential critical thinking skills in nursing.  

Want to Know More?

Online education company dedicated to bettering everyday skills, MasterClass, highlights seven steps you can take to improve your critical thinking. Check them out: 

  1. Pinpoint the issue.  
  2. Collect information.  
  3. Examine and scrutinize.  
  4. Decide what’s relevant. 
  5. Self-evaluation.  
  6. Draw conclusions.  
  7. Explain your conclusions. 

It is never too late to brush up on your critical thinking skills, and there is always room for improvement!  

So next time you are faced with a less-than straightforward situation, take a step back and analyze the situation holistically, filter out the irrelevant information, and focus on the desired outcome.  

Oftentimes the answer is clear once you put forth the required mental effort.  

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