Caring African-American nurse with a patient

12 Signs You Have What It Takes to Become a Nurse

The Traits & Characteristics for a Successful Nursing Career

Caring African-American nurse with a patient

Working as a nurse is a rewarding career, but it isn’t necessarily easy. Nursing school can be demanding, and nurses frequently face stressful situations and high-consequence decisions. Many prospective nursing students ask themselves big questions: Do I have what it takes to be a nurse? Am I smart enough? Do I have the right characteristics?

Nursing careers are accessible to all types of people willing to work hard, both in school and on the job. Still, nurses need certain traits to perform their jobs safely and effectively. To help you make an informed decision about whether you would be a good nurse, we’ve pulled together some of the top attributes you need to be successful in nursing.

Are you looking to learn more about life as an RN? Check out our detailed career guide on how to become a Registered Nurse, and browse our list of the highest-paying nursing jobs.

1. Compassion and empathy

Why do you want to be a nurse in the first place? If your first answer is because you live to help others, that’s a good sign. Nurses must possess a fundamental desire to care for their fellow humans and an ability to empathize with patients and families who may be scared, stressed, or in pain.

Nurses may not always agree with their patients’ life decisions, but they must be able to put aside any perceived differences and provide the best care they possibly can. Non-judgmental compassion for every patient is one of the essential characteristics of successful nurses.

2. Strong communication skills

Communication is a critical function of nearly all nursing jobs, whether evaluating a patient’s condition or providing updates to their family. Expressing yourself calmly and professionally is essential for nurses, especially in conversations that may elicit strong emotional reactions.

In addition to speaking with patients and families, strong written and verbal communication skills are essential on the clinical floor. From clearly annotating medical records to collaborating with physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers, thorough communication ensures every patient receives the best and safest care possible.

3. Solid physical stamina

It’s common for nurses to be on their feet for many hours at a time, in addition to lifting, bending, and squatting while moving or repositioning their patients. You don’t need to be a world-class athlete to become a nurse, but you do need to be prepared for a physically demanding job! The average nurse walks around four miles during a 12-hour shift.

However, it’s also important to know that if you have physical limitations, that doesn’t mean you can’t become a nurse! Many nurses with a variety of disabilities have had successful clinical careers. Learn more from the National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities.

4. Emotional resiliency

While working as a nurse, you’re almost guaranteed to experience sad, stressful, and just plain upsetting situations. The ability to compartmentalize the natural emotional reactions that arise during a medical crisis is an essential trait for a career in nursing.

Of course, nurses aren’t superhuman, and the things they experience at work can affect them over the long term. To stay healthy and avoid burnout, nurses must establish effective self-care routines, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and take their mental and emotional health seriously.

5. A strong stomach

We won’t sugarcoat things—nurses deal with a lot of blood and other bodily fluids. They sometimes encounter the aftermath of graphic injuries and assist with invasive procedures that make many people queasy even to imagine.

If you’re the type to get woozy at the sight of blood, it will be hard for you to become a nurse. However, if you’ve always been fascinated by medical procedures—or you’re the type who grabs the first aid kit after a friend gets a cut—you might have exactly what it takes!

Male nurse measures a patient's blood pressure

6. Attention to detail while multitasking

Nurses are almost always responsible for multiple patients simultaneously, meaning strong multitasking skills are another essential trait for prospective nurses. While nurse-to-patient ratios vary by department, facility, and even state law, you can almost guarantee you’ll have your focus pulled in multiple directions during any nursing shift.

Each patient under your care may have separate medication schedules and potential complications related to their medical condition. And because mistakes or oversights can have severe complications in a clinical setting, nurses must be able to stay focused while juggling multiple priorities at once.

7. Strong sense of ethics

A commitment to ethical behavior is another essential characteristic of any career in nursing.

Gallup survey data shows nurses are the professionals the public trusts most, consistently ranked as the most ethical career field.

As a nurse, you’ll have access to confidential patient data and must show great discretion with it—even leaving your paperwork in the wrong place could cause serious confidentiality issues. You may also work with controlled substances or be put in situations where you’re required to report certain types of injuries or suspected abuse.

Of course, you’ll receive plenty of ethics training as part of your BSN program. Knowing the level of responsibility you’ll need to live up to is crucial.

8. A willingness to learn and adapt

While nursing school is where you’ll build the foundation of your healthcare skill set, nurses never stop learning. Medical technology is constantly evolving, and even changing employers could require you to learn a new set of processes or how to use different medical equipment.

A willingness to be coached and an open-minded approach to learning new skills will benefit any nursing career. In addition to making you a more effective provider, that thirst for knowledge can help you earn the advanced certifications required for many of the highest-paying nursing jobs.

9. Grace under pressure

Any great nurse must be able to make quick decisions and take calculated actions in emergencies. While staying cool in high-pressure environments is a skill that can be developed, nursing is not a career for the easily flustered.

When you’re dealing with potentially life-threatening situations, remaining calm and methodically moving is what saves lives. If you’ve always been even-keeled in scenarios when other people tend to panic, that’s a great indicator you have what it takes to become a nurse.

10. A strong work ethic

There’s no denying nurses are some of the hardest-working people in the world—and to thrive in this career field, you have to be personally committed to the work. If you’re the type to take the initiative rather than wait for somebody to tell you what to do, you might make a great nurse.

Successful nurses take pride in showing up on time and giving their all every shift. While you won’t be expected to come in if you’re too sick to work, absenteeism and tardiness are the kinds of bad habits that won’t fly if you want to become a nurse.

11. Emotional intelligence

If you’ve ever been told you have a calming presence or that you’re good at reading people, you have one of the traits that makes a good nurse. Nurses must be able to put their patients at ease, and emotional intelligence is a huge part of that—especially when some people may be hesitant to reveal the full extent of their symptoms, pain, or fears.

Helping your patients, their families, and even your coworkers feel seen, heard, and understood is an important part of a career in nursing. People rarely have a great day when they or their loved ones receive medical care, and an emotionally attentive nurse can make all the difference with a few thoughtful words.

12. Problem-solving skills

Becoming a great nurse isn’t about memorizing a bunch of facts from a textbook. It’s about learning to think critically and applying your knowledge and experience to make an appropriate decision for your patient’s health.

Nurses will frequently encounter situations where things don’t go as planned, and they must be able to think quickly on their feet. If your default response to a challenge is to start looking for solutions immediately, you might make an excellent nurse.

Mature female nurse in a hospital hallway

Do I Have What it Takes to Become a Nurse?

While this list of nursing traits might seem like a high bar, you don’t have to be perfect to become a nurse. Even the best nurses occasionally get flustered, feel stressed, or have miscommunications with coworkers–but at the end of the day, they’re doing their best to do right by their patients. If these characteristics sound like an accurate description of your personality, there’s a great chance you’re made of the right stuff to become a successful nurse!

Ready to start taking steps toward an exciting new career in nursing? Learn more about the BSN program at Provo College, where you could earn your degree and become a registered nurse in as little as three years.