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Critical Thinking in Nursing

With nursing, you never know what each day might hold or what type of care each patient may need. Being able to assess any situation, think quickly on your feet and make a solid judgment call is critical to patient outcomes as well as the safety of all involved. Nurses who are considering enrolling in an online RN to BSN program should ensure that the coursework in the program they choose develops and sharpens their analytical skills.

Why Is Critical Thinking Important in Nursing?

Nurses who are able to take ideas and adapt them to multiple situations or convert knowledge to abstract or theoretical concepts have developed critical thinking skills. While nurses frequently operate as part of a care team, maintaining the ability to think independently and utilize available resources not only makes you a more effective nurse but also strengthens the team as a whole.

Regardless of the setting — whether it is a hospital intensive care unit or an after-hours clinic — nurses who have honed their critical thinking and analytical skills are better prepared to excel at any number of tasks, including the following:

  • Monitor complex patient conditions.
  • Remain calm, focused and functional under intense pressure and time constraints.
  • Pick up on subtle changes in patients’ vitals or presentations.
  • Quickly change trajectory to address the most critical patient needs.
  • Prioritize tasks or workflows as new information emerges.
  • Evaluate lab results and other incoming medical data.
  • Identify, document, and clearly and accurately convey relevant information to colleagues, physicians and other healthcare providers to provide continuity of care.
  • Maintain open and frequent communication with patients, family members and coworkers.

What Happens When Nurses Are Not Critical Thinkers?

Nurses who do not regularly use critical thinking can be a hindrance to patient care and safety. For example, learning standard protocols for patient care and treatment is an acceptable practice. However, considering the likelihood that problems unrelated to specific protocols may arise — such as a patient’s adverse reaction to medication or a newly reported pain sensation — nurses who are overly reliant on protocols may not possess sufficient analytical aptitude to properly address emerging situations.

How Can Nurses Improve Analytical Skills?

For some nurses, analytical thinking comes naturally, while others struggle to grasp such concepts. The upside is that you can often improve these skills with continued practice, both during your educational and employment experiences.

Many nurses find that the design of their online RN to BSN degree coursework can help develop their critical thinking and analytical skills, allowing them to enter the workforce as confident decision-makers and leaders. Curricula styles can also hone nurses’ writing abilities and the accuracy and depth with which they report data in patient charts, research-based projects and school assignments.

For example, the coursework in an RN to BSN program can provide the foundational elements of evidence-based nursing practices. Through repetition, brainstorming and the application of existing knowledge — even from areas unrelated to nursing or healthcare — nurses can begin to recognize problems or variances early, learn how to ask thought-provoking questions to gather more information, and think through situations strategically to determine the ideal resolution based on the intended goal. Since this thought process may challenge current standards, it can also generate new insights and knowledge which can influence the way all nurses provide patient care.

Skill Development

Nurses enrolled in an online RN to BSN program can expect to sharpen and develop their critical thinking skills as well as foster a deeper understanding of the role these capabilities play in daily practice. As nurses become more confident in their judgment and are able to quickly and accurately evaluate situations, they will be better prepared for the unexpected and ready to adapt to patients’ needs.

Learn more about the University of Texas of the Permian Basin online RN to BSN program.


Nursing Standard: Applying Critical Thinking to Nursing

Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing: Enhancing Critical Thinking in Clinical Practice: Implications for Critical and Acute Care Nurses

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