Fostering soft skills among new nurses
HealthJanuary 28, 2019

Fostering soft skills among new nurses

Think back to nursing school. You probably learned a great deal about various clinical issues, like clinical decision making or the nursing process. And while these topics are essential in developing an effective nursing practice, your nursing program may have overlooked another skill set that is just as vital for success.

“Soft skills", or those that don"t involve direct patient care or clinical skills, help nurses interact with their colleagues and foster a safer patient care environment. But how do new nurses learn these soft skills if they aren"t taught in school? Real life lessons certainly help, but nurse educators are also in prime position to help novice nurses communicate, collaborate, and delegate better.

How poor soft skills impact patient care

It's no secret among more experienced nurses that without a firm grasp of soft skills, nurses may flounder as they try to care for patients. It's important for new nurses to realize that the healthcare team is made up of more than the nursing staff - it includes physicians, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, and others, all working together for the benefit of each patient.

Ineffective soft skills may lead to ineffective patient care. You may notice signs of ineffective soft skills on your unit, including medications that are administered late or missed or delayed meals. Patients may also receive substandard education, and transfers or discharges may be difficult.

Enhancing communication and collaboration

Communication is at the core of soft skill competency. After all, there can be no effective patient care without effective communication between parties responsible for providing that care. However, it's important to enhance communication on your unit while also respecting each person's unique position in the patient care delivery model.

Helping novice nurses develop their communication skills is the beginning of forming a partnership on your unit between nurses and other care providers. As partners in healthcare, staff members are more likely to work together instead of butting heads over delegation or other issues.

An essential component to creating an atmosphere of partnership is role clarification. New nurses may not be aware of the scope of practice for others, especially nursing assistants. In turn, nursing assistants and other members of the staff may not realize the nurses” ultimate responsibility for the patient, including medication administration and other essential patient care tasks.

Additionally, it can be useful to adopt a set of community norms in regard to communication on your unit. A recent study found that such norms help improve both accountability and patient care among staff. Examples of community norms include:

  • Being appreciative and expressing that appreciation with words like “please" and “thank you"
  • Using effective communication techniques, such as making eye contact and listening without interrupting
  • Being dependable, responsible, and accountable
  • Being approachable, which includes monitoring and adjusting your body language and facial expressions if needed
  • Working together as a team

Developing delegation skills

New nurses may have the most trouble with delegating tasks to other members of the healthcare staff. But delegation is an important part of effective, and efficient, patient care. Nurses must learn how to delegate respectfully and competently.

Help your novice nurses learn to delegate by first making sure they understand each staff member's role on the unit. Then, you can help make sure successful delegation takes place by building on the communication skills you already fostered. The delegation must be complete, which means clear, concise communication must be used to relay ideas.

The creation of communication “checkpoints" may help novice nurses develop their delegation abilities. These checkpoints, which can be supervised or not, should occur every few hours. During this time, make sure the care team discusses the patient's care plan and any progress that's been made toward patient care goals.

It can be very helpful for more experienced nurses to actively demonstrate effective delegation to novice nurses. Leading by example helps everyone on the staff better understand rationales for care and guides new nurses as they develop their delegation skills.

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