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Why Critical Thinking Skills in Nursing Are Essential

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Feb 29, 2024
Nurse with a tablet speaking to another health care professional.

Why Critical Thinking Skills in Nursing Are Essential

Working in health care requires quick thinking and confident decision-making to care for patients. While nurses use a broad range of technical skills to provide quality care, an essential skill that’s easy to overlook is critical thinking. Nursing professionals should explore the benefits of critical thinking skills in nursing, how to apply them, and the ways that advanced education can sharpen their ability to make precise decisions.

Critical Thinking Skills: A Definition

Critical thinking is the process of evaluating facts, interpreting information, and analyzing situations to make informed decisions in various situations. Finding the correct answer to a complex problem isn’t easy. When situations don’t have clear answers and many factors to consider, critical thinking can help individuals move forward and make decisions.

Critical thinking competencies can be applied to a wide range of workplaces and personal situations. In nursing, critical thinking skills can help deliver effective care, handle a patient crisis, and assess the efficacy of treatment plans.

The Importance of Critical Thinking Skills in Nursing

The fast-paced nursing environment requires prompt, data-driven decisions. Nurses use critical thinking daily, reviewing information and making decisions to promote quality care for patients. The following benefits of critical thinking highlight the importance of this skill in nursing careers:

  • Improves decision-making speed. A critical thinking mindset can help nurses make timely, effective decisions in difficult situations. A systematic method to evaluate decisions and move forward is a powerful tool for nurses.

  • Refines communication. Improving professional communication allows for factual, efficient, and empathetic conversations with patients and other health care professionals.

  • Promotes open-mindedness. It’s easy to overlook certain opinions or viewpoints in a high-pressure situation. Thankfully, critical thinking promotes open-mindedness in exploring solutions.

  • Combats bias. A critical look at different behaviors, contexts, and viewpoints can be helpful for identifying and addressing bias. Nurses must actively seek out ways to confront and remove bias in the workplace.

Critical Thinking in the Nursing Process

There are many ways to apply critical thinking skills to nursing situations. The nursing process is a five-step process to assist nurses in applying critical thinking skills to their daily duties. Experienced nurses and professionals considering a career change to nursing should review the steps as part of their critical thinking process.

Step 1: Assessment

Assessing a patient means far more than taking their vital signs. It also includes collecting sociocultural and psychological data. Lifestyle factors and experiences can affect the treatment process and approach, so skilled nurses review these areas before moving toward the next step, diagnosis.

For example, if a patient reports dizziness or shortness of breath, a nurse should not only check the patient’s temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate but also ask about their family history and recent events.

Step 2: Diagnosis

During the second step, a nurse’s assessment and critical thinking skills produce a clinical judgment. Nurses need to carefully consider all the factors included in the first step. When necessary, consult with other health care professionals before reaching a diagnosis or communicating that diagnosis with the patient.

Discussing a patient’s assessment with other health care professionals requires critical thinking, as the information provided about vital signs, recent events, and family history are key components of this step.

Step 3: Planning

A nurse may be responsible for setting goals and planning a treatment plan for patients. The third step can include setting measurable, achievable goals. Nurses also coordinate care with other health care professionals.

Goals can be simple or complex, depending on the assessment and diagnosis. For example, one patient’s goals may include eating three meals a day, while another’s may include having multiple medications, specialist visits, and physical therapy activities as part of their treatment plan.

Step 4: Implementation

Critical thinking is needed to implement the nursing process, finding ways to carry out the plan with empathy. It’s also important for nurses to document care throughout the fourth step of the process.

For example, nurses should review patient history and consider symptoms before administering medication. Nursing professionals should also think critically about which patients to see first and how to prioritize patients who may need critical attention.

Step 5: Evaluation

Nurses need to continue to evaluate and review the patient’s condition using critical thinking. Evaluation allows nursing professionals to review patient conditions, recommend care plan modification, and consider overall patient status.

For example, identifying whether patients may be ready for a care plan modification or another change in care requires critical thinking and a clear, focused evaluation of multiple patient factors.

How to Foster Critical Thinking Through Nursing Education

Critical thinking is integral to success in the health care field. Thankfully, many ways are available for nurses to improve their critical thinking skills. Below are training, mentoring, and education options for fostering critical thinking.

On-the-Job Training

Because critical thinking is so critical to the daily duties of nurses, experience in the field can improve their ability to evaluate situations and make data-driven decisions. Working firsthand with patients and alongside skilled professionals is a powerful way to see and apply critical thinking in real-world scenarios.

Mentoring Opportunities

Nurses should seek mentorship opportunities for personalized, side-by-side instruction and inspiration from fellow professionals. Mentorships can be either formal or informal opportunities to learn from skilled nurses and health care professionals to promote critical thinking.

Further Education

Many continuing education opportunities are available for nurses. Professionals looking to improve their critical thinking skills should consider enrolling in a course that promotes reflection, evaluation, and analytical thinking.

Review Critical Thinking Skills With The University of Tulsa

Expand your critical thinking skills in nursing by enrolling in a program to earn a degree in the field. The University of Tulsa offers an accelerated online RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) program for students to earn their BSN in as little as 12 months. Take 30 credits of online courses to expand your medical knowledge, general education, and critical thinking abilities. Review the features of this online opportunity to see if it’s the right decision for your career.

Recommended Readings:

The Benefits of Nurse Mentoring

Hospice Nurse: Job Description and Salary

Work-From-Home Safety Checklist: Securing Your Virtual Workspace


American Nurses Association, The Nursing Process

American Nurses Association, What Are the Qualities of a Good Nurse?

Forbes, “The Power of Critical Thinking: Enhancing Decision-Making and Problem-Solving”

Indeed, “Critical Thinking in Nursing (Definition and Vital Tips)”

Indeed, “Critical Thinking Skills in Nursing: Definition and Improvement Tips”

Indeed, “15 Essential Nursing Skills to Include on Your Resume”

StatPearls, “Nursing Process”

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