7 Reasons Critical Thinking in Nursing is Important
By Alana Luna
Being a nurse is a complicated job which is why nurses and critical thinking are so intricately linked.
As a nurse, you’re often responsible for making life-altering decisions, acting as an authority in stressful situations and helping patients and their loved ones through some of the most stressful and emotional moments they’ll ever experience.
It’s these reasons and more as to why critical thinking skills in nursing is important. Here are seven reasons the importance of critical thinking in nursing is worth exploring and perfecting.
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1. Nurses’ Critical Thinking Heavily Impacts Patient Care
Shantay Carter is a nurse, mentor, public speaker and author who also runs a non-profit dedicated to empowering and educating women.
Carter believes strongly in the importance of critical thinking in nursing, saying, “Nurses must be able to think critically in order to anticipate patient needs.”
From ensuring patient safety to being able to detect changes in patient status, analytic skills turn average nurses into extraordinarily capable caretakers.
2. It's Vital to Recognizing Shifts in Patient Status
One of Carter’s points is so valuable it’s worth mentioning twice. These days, putting a patient under observation largely means hooking them up to expensive monitors and watching the readouts, but that ignores the largely human aspect of patient assessments.
Nurses are trained to use a standardized practice of care that covers assessment, diagnosis, outcomes and planning, implementation and evaluation.
By using critical thinking to dig deep and spot signs of deterioration, pain or complications early on, nurses can actually save lives.
3. It’s Integral to an Honest and Open Exchange of Ideas
Carter also speaks to the role critical thinking plays in team interaction, saying it’s important “to be able to effectively communicate with the NP or doctor.”
A patient’s care team often encompasses at least a handful of individuals, and those people have to convey information without mistakes or misunderstanding.
Fail to do so and someone’s well-being hangs in the balance. On some occasions, members of a medical team might disagree about a care plan.
The ensuing discussion requires those on opposite sides of the argument to identify their position, make a case and then either offer additional support or find logic in the other party’s rationale.
This is a classic example of the kind of critical thinking nurses employ each and every day.
4. It Allows You to Ensure Patient Safety
As a nurse, it’s your job to provide medical care, but you’re also there to protect the patient’s interests and safeguard them from harm.
Most of the time, this means being aware of medically relevant issues like drug sensitivities or personal preferences such as religious affiliation (which can impact care choices and a patient’s mental status), but in modern times, nurses are being charged with riskier assignments such as protecting patients during an active shooting.
In high-pressure situations, there’s not always a clearly demarcated line that helps us distinguish between right and wrong, but critical thinking offers a way to gather and interpret data so we can make a choice we can live with.
5. It Helps Nurses Find Quick Fixes
There is no such thing as a perfectly smooth nursing shift. Nurses learn to expect the unexpected, but employing critical thinking in nursing can help turn major issues into minor blips, an approach Carter also endorses.
Speaking on the benefits of critical thinking, Carter says, “It allows you to problem solve and troubleshoot in certain situations.”
When standard protocols don’t work and routine approaches to patient situations fall short, critical thinking in nursing may provide a clear, logical path to the precise answers and creative solutions nurses need to find a resolution.
6. Critical Thinking can Lead to Innovative Improvements
If we all follow the same approaches we learn in books, nothing will ever change. That can be a problem, especially when patient needs are always evolving and healthcare today isn’t the same as it was last week, let alone a decade ago.
Creating new, cutting-edge ways to improve departmental processes could help everyone from management to patients’ support systems.
Anita Dorr spent 24 years as an operating room nurse at Meyer Hospital before founding the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA). She’s also known as the inventor of the crash cart, a mobile cabinet filled with items essential to patient resuscitation.
Sisters Teri Barton-Salinas and Gail Barton-Hay, both nurses, invented ColorSafe IV Lines in 2003 to help reduce patient injuries related to medication mistakes. Both inventions relied on critical thinking.
7. It Plays a Role in Rational Decision Making
The importance of critical thinking in nursing extends to the decision-making process. Even though health care is considered a scientific discipline with set processes and mandates covering almost every step of patient care, there are still plenty of instances that require nurses to formulate new plans in mere seconds. This is where critical thinking comes in handy.
One study of emergency medicine students found a link between critical-thinking skills and decision-making abilities. Researchers looked at the need for quick diagnosis and effective communication in ERs, with a special focus on analysis, prioritization and organization.
Though the study dealt with ER-specific situations such as triage, the same principles apply to nurses who work in other disciplines.
Whether you’re looking at students or working nurses, critical thinking is one of the most important skills medical professionals learn to develop and maintain.
By leading with logic and evaluating data in real time, nurses stand to better themselves and provide better care to their patients.