How to Be a Better Nurse: 4 Essential Tips

by | Feb 12, 2024 | Professional Development for Nurses | 0 comments

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Maybe you finally feel comfortable in your role as a nurse, but you want to learn how to get even better. This post is just for you! Let’s discuss how to be a better nurse with these four helpful tips – written by a nurse!

How to Become a Better Nurse

How to Be a Better Nurse: 4 Things to Try

No matter your responsibility as a nurse, you can always improve your skills by following some simple tips. Let’s discuss how to be a better nurse.

#1 Face The Things That Scare You

One of the best approaches to being a better version of yourself is to write down everything that scares you at work. We must first identify what is scary before we can dig into it. And if you’re not sure, sit back and consider when you realize you have to do certain tasks and you feel tense, dread doing it, or put it off. For example, do you hate ventilators, initiating a sepsis protocol, putting in a feeding tube, or starting an IV?

Once you’ve written a list, circle the top two. Then, get obsessed with becoming a master at that.

If ventilators are your nemesis, become BFFs with your respiratory therapists and ask them to take you under their wing. This will not happen overnight, but by dedicating extra time and energy, you’ll conquer what you avoid and become a more well-rounded nurse.

#2 Do a Deep Dive Into Your Unit’s Most Commonly Given Meds

I love a good deep dive. Crime podcasts, documentaries, or whatever that goes into detail about one specific topic. Let’s use that same technique to help you be a better nurse.

Once you’ve settled into your specific nursing unit, you’ll start to notice that there are typically 10-15 medications you administer more frequently than others, tailored to the unique needs of your patient population. This presents a valuable opportunity to narrow your focus and become an expert on these select medications. For example, nurses in a Neuro ICU might often administer drugs like Mannitol, 3% Saline, Propofol, Dexamethasone, and Neosynephrine—each chosen for their critical role in managing neurological conditions—far more frequently than those in a postpartum unit.

To leverage this, consider creating master cheat sheets or a digital note 📝 on your phone detailing these medications. Include key teaching points, statistics, and pathophysiology explanations for quick reference. This targeted approach is a significant shift from the broad study of pharmacology in nursing school, allowing for deeper mastery of the medications you use daily.

Here’s a bullet list of 5 common medications with interesting tidbits:

  • Mannitol: Used to reduce cerebral edema by drawing fluid out of the brain tissue. It’s fascinating how it works as an osmotic diuretic, essentially pulling water across the blood-brain barrier by osmosis.
  • 3% Saline: A hypertonic solution crucial for managing hyponatremia in severe brain injury cases. It works by increasing the sodium concentration in the blood, which can help reduce cerebral swelling.
  • Propofol: Often used for sedation in mechanically ventilated patients. Its rapid onset and short duration of action make it ideal for procedures requiring deep sedation or for maintaining sedation in critical care settings. (Watch out for delirium, though!)
  • Dexamethasone: A potent corticosteroid used to decrease inflammation in various conditions, including cerebral edema. Its role in reducing the inflammatory response in the brain can be life-saving in patients with significant swelling.
  • Neosynephrine (Phenylephrine): A powerful vasopressor used to increase blood pressure in patients with acute hypotension. It’s particularly interesting for its selective action on alpha-1 adrenergic receptors, leading to vasoconstriction and increased blood pressure without significantly affecting the heart rate. (If you want to learn the basics of ICU drips, check out this free mini-course.)

By concentrating on the medications most relevant to your unit and patient population, you enhance your expertise, efficiency, and ability to provide exceptional care, making you a valuable resource within your team. It is much less overwhelming and doable to really zero-in on a shorter list of meds!

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#3 – Reflect

Let’s delve into a crucial aspect of nursing practice: self-reflection. Self-reflection involves engaging in introspection and posing challenging questions about your professional life, such as:

  • What practices can I eliminate? Some habits or tendencies that we used when we were novices don’t always continue to serve us as we increase complexity.
    • Do I need to write out a full detailed report sheet in the morning and spend 45 minutes perfecting my report sheets? Do I need to make sure something is in each box on the chart because I like the way it looks?
  • What are my objectives? What do I want to do?
  • What am I excellent at? What tasks or responsibilities get me excited?
  • What areas require my attention for improvement? What do I avoid?
    • Am I avoiding discharges or IV starts because I feel like I’m bad at them?

Be honest with yourself. Don’t come up with answers that you feel you should say or that might be true for others but not yourself. This only helps you if you are honest about how you feel.

Improving in the nursing profession can be achieved through various methods, but starting with these straightforward strategies can significantly advance your proficiency. Honest self-reflection will enable you to identify actionable steps to move the needle forward.

#4 – Chat With Physicians About Their Thought Processes

One of my favorite ways to learn more about what was going on with patients was to ask physicians or advanced practice providers about their thought processes.

A valuable question to pose is, “Could you share your differential diagnosis for this patient with me?” This helps me learn what other issues they were or are currently considering, why, and what made them choose the specific path that they’ve selected.

I have found that physicians and APPs like to teach others, but you have to open the door to that first so that they don’t feel like they’re being condescending by teaching something randomly to someone who hasn’t asked for it. If you’re aware of the differential diagnoses from the physician’s latest note, but not sure why they were appropriate differential diagnoses, ask!

This approach not only broadens your understanding of various medical conditions and potential treatments but also deepens your comprehension of the rationale medications you administer and the justification for various interventions. Such proactive learning contributes to your development as a comprehensive nurse, ultimately leading to improved patient care.

The pursuit of knowledge in nursing is unending, whether it involves familiarizing yourself with new medications or adopting innovative diagnostic strategies. The healthcare landscape is constantly evolving, presenting continuous learning opportunities. Remember, it’s natural not to excel in every aspect initially. By embracing these strategies, you are on your way to becoming an exemplary nurse, committed to delivering superior patient care.

Bonus Tip ➡️ Take time to read the notes from the physicians, APPs, and consulting medical teams. These can offer valuable insight into the patient’s situation and help deepen your clinical understanding.

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Critical Thinking: The Bedrock of Professional Development

So, beyond everything we’ve discussed, being a critical thinker is important. Honestly, all the medical know-how in the world won’t do you much good if you can’t think through situations critically. It’s all about looking at things logically, questioning what you hear, and coming to your conclusions.

When you’re good at critical thinking, you’ll be great at breaking down info and making smart choices. This is important in nursing because you’re often in situations where you’ve got to make quick calls that really matter. Critical thinking helps you filter through all the noise and make solid decisions.

Keep in mind that things aren’t always going to be straightforward, and sometimes, you’ll have to make the best call with what you’ve got. Being a critical thinker means you can handle these moments with confidence, knowing you’re doing the best you can for your patients.

Remember, nursing is always changing, with new stuff to learn all the time. So, stay curious, ask loads of questions, and keep on learning to give your patients the best care you can.

How to Be a Better Nurse – Video

Are You Ready to Be a Better Nurse?

The fact that you’re looking into ways to become a better nurse is a phenomenal first step! You don’t have to do everything all at once. Small improvements are valuable and will enable you to continue to move towards your goals sustainably. Professional development is a slow burn, much like becoming a nurse in the first place. You slowly take steps over a long period, and suddenly, you find yourself as the go-to person on the unit, in grad school, or with a specialty certification!

Have you taken steps to be a better nurse? Share in the comments below!

More Resources on How to Be a Better Nurse

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    Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

    Hi, I’m Kati.

    Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

    Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


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