Ten Skills Needed for Entry-Level Nurses

Graduation day for a licensed practical nurse is a time to celebrate accomplishments, but it also marks the beginning of a new phase of learning. School teaches students what they need to know to be confident on the job, but it’s only with real-world experience that knowledge comes full circle. For new nurses, an entry-level job is a safe space where they can gain technical expertise and develop the soft skills that pave the way for success. To make the most of those opportunities, these are ten skills every entry-level nurse needs.

Skill #1: Clinical Skills

Practical nurses provide primary patient care under the supervision of a doctor or a registered nurse. The role is task-heavy and includes taking vital signs, administering medications and performing treatments such as dressing changes and catheterizations on medically safe and stable patients.

It’s expected that an entry-level nurse can safely perform these basic clinical tasks, but employers also realize that new graduates have rarely been exposed to complex situations, so they offer both support and supervision until entry-level nurses gain confidence.

Clinical skills are only grown through practice, and to qualify for positions with greater responsibility, nursing students and new graduates should take every opportunity to practice what they learn and be open to taking on new tasks as soon as they’re ready.

As professionals, it’s always incumbent upon entry-level nurses to not perform functions they are not qualified or trained for, but it’s equally vital that they become proficient in the clinical skills that will define their practice. Nurses working in a cardiology office need to master doing electrocardiograms while those working in surgical practice should hone their skills at removing stitches.

Skill #2: Communication Skills

Practical nurses are front line caregivers, and as the professionals most likely to have dedicated one-on-one time with patients and their families, they serve as an essential link between members of the healthcare team.

Licensed practical nurses are responsible for taking physicians’ orders and communicating them to patients and their families as well as to the paraprofessional staff they supervise like nursing assistants. Since they monitor patients closely for changes in condition, they may be the first person to recognize new symptoms, and they’re often the patients’ go-to resource for information when they have a question.

Nearly every task and human interaction a practical nurse participates in requires some form of written or verbal communication. In a fast-paced medical setting, excellent reading, writing, and medical terminology skills are a must, but more so is the ability to articulate ideas quickly and concisely.

Skill #3: Time Management Skills

Most of an entry-level nurse’s duties are time-sensitive. Doctors’ orders, especially those for medication, come with parameters that must be carefully observed. A dose of antibiotics given too late could be less effective than it should be, while blood pressure medication given too early could result in dangerous hypotension and a serious fall.

Administering medications and treatments on time while assisting patients with activities of daily living and being prepared to tackle emergencies as they happen can be overwhelming without top-notch time management skills. For an entry-level nurse, adjusting to the consistent time crunch is challenging, but the right attitude, tools and support help keep it from becoming too stressful.

Skill #4: A Team-oriented Attitude

When healthcare providers work as a team, everyone wins. As medicine becomes more complex, a single doctor, nurse or therapist rarely has the knowledge it takes to meet all of a patient’s needs. Research shows that the best outcomes occur when care is approached collaboratively by a multi-disciplinary team of professionals. Patients’ benefit from input and different perspectives. Individual providers feel supported and less stressed knowing that they don’t bear the entire weight of every clinical decision.

A team-oriented attitude requires excellent communication skills and respect for other professionals’ opinions. It also demands a willingness to share ideas that might not be accepted. As an entry-level nurse, that can be intimidating, so it helps to cultivate trust and openness toward colleagues while learning the ropes.

Skill #5: Motivation to Learn

Experience comes only through practice, and the best opportunities to practice come to those with a strong desire to learn. No two days are the same in healthcare, and the chance to learn new things is always right around the corner.

To make the most of opportunities, entry-level nurses need to stretch beyond their comfort zone to try new tasks that may seem to be ahead of their learning curve. When combined with additional education, it’s the key to both comfort on the job and future advancement.

Skill #6: Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is the foundation of the nursing process. It’s the combination of education and experience that helps nurses solve problems and make sound, evidence-based decisions that are in the best interest of their patients.

Critical thinking comes more naturally to some than others, but because such a large part of it is based on knowledge and exposure to new situations, it’s a skill that develops over time. An entry-level nurse is expected to make safe clinical decisions within their scope of practice upon graduation, but by being mindful of how they think and observing how seasoned nurses use the critical thinking process, they can quickly learn to be effective problem solvers.

Skill #7: Confidence

After a successful career as a student, it’s tough for an entry-level nurse to suffer their first on-the-job failure. Making an error, especially if it’s a serious one, can lead to cause a crisis of confidence. If it continues, a nurse may become tentative and second-guess their every decision, making practice stressful at best and in some cases, impossible.

As a trait, confidence is hard to quantify, but as a skill, it’s easy to cultivate by remembering that no one is perfect, and that failure can sometimes be the best teacher. It takes confidence to go to nursing school, nurture it by setting realistic goals and allowing room for mistakes.

Skill #8: Flexibility

In nursing school, students have the opportunity to stretch their wings in clinical rotations, but these experiences are limited and carefully planned. In the real world, there won’t be an instructor standing by to take over in an emergency.

A quiet afternoon planned to reorganize the supply room or catch up with documentation might suddenly become a foot race as patients’ conditions take a turn for the worse and new admissions arrive. For nurses, the ability to switch gears, mentally, emotionally and physically, is a must.

Skill #9: Assertiveness

Assertiveness is the ability to express opinions positively and insist they be respected without being aggressive or infringing on the rights of others to be heard. For an entry-level nurse, being assertive can feel uncomfortable, but as a patient advocate, it’s an essential skill.

It’s also a skill that reduces workplace stress and improves job satisfaction. When members of a team feel they can discuss their thoughts without fear of judgment or repercussion, they’re empowered to make suggestions without reservation for the sake of the patient. They are also more comfortable and relaxed working with each other.

Skill #10: Reliability

Reliability is a make-or-break skill in an entry-level nursing position. In a busy hospital, patient care can’t be deferred because a team member couldn’t make it in or couldn’t be counted on to fulfill their responsibilities. Other members of the team must pick up the slack. Like other professionals, a nurse’s success in practice is in part dictated by their reputation and a large part of that is how reliable they are.

Nursing is a commitment, and it can be a balancing act to meet the needs of both family and colleagues, but reliability is measured less by an occasional failure to meet responsibilities as it is the way those instances are handled. A reliable nurse who needs to miss a day of work because of a sick child, for example, calls colleagues and offers to swap shifts to minimize the impact on patients and other staff.

Final Thoughts

Graduating from nursing school is just the beginning of a lifelong adventure in learning, and the first position an entry-level nurse takes teaches them almost as much as the long months spent hitting the books in preparation for it. Every day brings opportunities to master old skills and get the hang of new ones. School teaches students what they need to know, but it’s experience that builds confidence, and ultimately, it’s confidence that paves the way for success in nursing.

Did learning about the important skills needed for an entry-level nurse interest you? The Associate of Science in Nursing degree program at Gwinnett College provides training to prepare college graduates to enter the nursing profession as a registered nurse.  Classroom theory, challenging assignments, skill labs, simulations, and clinical experiences help to prepare college graduates for an entry-level nursing position. 

Upon successful completion of the program and demonstrated nursing competence, the college graduates will be eligible to apply to take the NCLEX-RN licensure examination.*   Upon graduation and licensure, college graduates will be eligible to seek employment in hospitals, clinics, private duty, urgent and acute care centers, and various other medical or business facilities requiring the services of registered nurses.

*While Gwinnett Institute provides test preparation and review assistance to college students, it cannot guarantee any college student will be able to take or pass any type of licensure exam.  College students must be mindful throughout their entire training program that licensure is a pre-requisite for employment as a nurse and to diligently prepare themselves to meet this important requirement.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming an RN at Gwinnett College.