We’ve all heard our nursing school professors say countless times how important it is for us to improve our critical thinking skills—not only to pass the NCLEX-RN, but also to become proficient nurses.
Like many other nursing students, I struggled with the concept of critical thinking because no one ever really broke it down for me. After more than seven years of practice, I’ve finally found a way to explain it. Here are three key elements of critical thinking in nursing:
1. Critical thinking requires logic
Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind with critical thinking is logic. Nurses are trained to use a five-step Nursing Process, which involves assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation. This systematic method helps nurses organize information in a way that helps them make safe and effective clinical decisions for their patients. This aspect of critical thinking is crucial in upholding safe nursing practices and delivering quality patient care.
2. Critical thinking requires flexibility
In addition to relying on logic, critical thinking also requires that you remain open-minded and maintain a tolerance for the unexpected. As a nurse, you are in charge of observing, monitoring, and collecting data that can be analyzed by the entire healthcare team to make decisions regarding a patient’s plan of care and treatment options. This data can be anything from a subtle rise in temperature to a discoloration in skin. We have to be aware of these changes at all times while constantly questioning what can we do about it.
3. Critical thinking requires intuition
Finally, critical thinking in nursing is more than a systematic approach of problem solving and analyzing objective data. In fact, critical thinking is somewhat of an organic evolution that is derived from the holistic nursing experience. In many cases, nurses connect with their patients, and experience intuitive guidance while anticipating their needs—a term previously coined as Nursing Judgement. Thus, we should learn to trust our gut when it tells us something is wrong. Then from there, we can rely on our systematic and inquisitive approaches to determine how to best meet our patient’s needs.