People choose nursing as a career are mostly because of family influence, work opportunities and the need to care and help others (Jirwe & Rudman 2012; McLaughlin et al. 2010; Mooney et al. 2008). Bearing in mind that nursing is influenced by the demand of society and social reforms, providing the definition of nursing is vital in order for nurses, other professionals and service users to know and understand the generic role of a nurse (Hall & Ritchie 2011).
The World Health Organization and the Royal College of Nursing mutually define nursing as a profession that involves in health promotion, the application of both clinical experiences and updated knowledge when caring for a patient, as well as, achieving the best possible quality of life until death, in all settings. In addition, nursing should give importance to a service users’ utmost interest without any discrimination whilst in care.
There are several lists of abilities and characteristics mentioned in ‘The code in full’ by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (2010), which also gives guidance and advice for nurses and midwives professionally and or personally. Even so, caring, empathy, emotional intelligence and critical thinking are attributes that will be discussed further. First and foremost, nursing is mainly associated with the caring characteristics or even synonymous with it.
First year nursing students who does not have any experience in a health care setting are likely to value caring behaviours as a must in the nursing profession. Their view on caring behaviours will depend on their interpretation of the description society, their family and friends convey (Robinson & Bennett 2007). However, through exposure to several practice placement settings students’ will become aware that caring is impinged by a lot of factors which includes occupational socialization (Price 2009), political changes (BBC News Politics 2011) and economic issues (Shaw et al. 009), therefore it is not straight forward.
These factors will impact on their initial perception of caring, whether they will feel uncaring or unable to care, which may hinder their ability to become a good nurse (Murphy et al. 2009). Nevertheless, nursing is still an occupation where caring is integral. In fact, the article by Williams, Dean and Williams in 2009 found out that nurses are exceedingly caring individuals in comparison to others who are not, thus upholding the reason why nursing is viewed as a caring profession.
However, the term caring iffers from one person to another because of the variation of individual needs and their insight of care. For instance, caring nurses for a child are those who use flattery and endearing words when listening and talking to them. On the other hand, an adult might view this as disrespectful and offensive (Brady 2009). To be a caring nurse it is also very important to wisely empathise with patients. For the reason that it will promote a therapeutic bond, which is essential for the health and well-being of the patients as well as their care providers, as suggested many times by (Gibson-Mee S 2011; Hojat et al. 011; Towers 2007).
Despite this, a research by Fox et al. (2009) points out that empathy is a very difficult behaviour to learn and exploit when health care professionals does not have any relatable experiences with their patients. In addition, factors in clinical settings such as difficult patients, assignments, exposure to negative co-workers, pressure to complete tasks within a limited time frame, and fear of making mistakes will deter on the development of empathy amongst student nurses (Ward et al. 2012).
Consequently, as recommended by Brunero et al. (2010), it is essential for institutions in their educational programmes to highlight the role of managing students own emotional response. This will enable students to increase their understanding of their own values. Plus, before they attempt to empathise with patients they should know how to distinguish when and where to use it. The importance of this is that if poorly judged, it may be perceived by the patients as an intrusion.
Another characteristic is being emotionally intelligent. Mayer et al. 2008) stated that, “Emotional intelligence concerns the ability to carry out accurate reasoning about emotions and the ability to use emotions and emotional knowledge to enhance thought. ” In their study they established that emotional intelligence can be a predictor to significant life outcomes, which includes social relations, workplace performance as well as mental and physical well-being. The relationship between the two is valuable in practice because it will possibly give information to practitioners’ on the understandings of and interventions in human behaviour.
Although there are still a lot to discover about the concept of emotional intelligence, they believed that it is a useful addition to contemporary science, especially in practice. Similarly and in relation to emotional intelligence, self-concept refers to the perceptions that an individual has about their selves. It is one of the most important variables for personal well-being. For example, those students who have a ‘high self-concept’ are those who have a greater ability to regulate their own emotions and those of others.
On the other hand, those who do not have the ability will have a greater emphasis to their internal and emotional state instead; therefore have ‘low self-concept’. For the reason that nursing is a profession that requires not only technical expertise but also needs psychologically oriented care, being emotionally intelligent is crucial for nursing students. It is also important for their growth and development in the nursing profession (Landa et al. 2009; Beauvais et al. 2011).
What is more, the research by Dusseldorp et al. n 2010 identified that mental health nurses have higher emotional intelligence than average individual. Since they deal with emotionally unstable patients most of the time and are prone to burnouts, mental health nurses are able to adapt their emotions with reference to their experiences on a given situation. The research also believed that being emotionally intelligent can build a therapeutic bond between patients and nurses. Hence, they recommend that institutions should include the development of emotional intelligence of students to their curricula.
Lastly, thinking critically is and should also be an integral part of being a good nurse. This is due to the concern for patient safety which has grown not only in the United Kingdom (National Reporting and Learning Services 2011) but also worldwide (WHO 2012). In order to be a critical thinker a nurse should possess the following attributes: eagerness to solve problems with a valid and firm reason; organised; open-minded; rational and confident.
A nurse with these attributes will be seen as a team leader, for they can be the right person who can determine problems, the right person to go to when there is a problem and the right person who will manage to find solutions professionally (Zori et al. 2010; Profetto-McGrath et al. 2008). However, a research conducted by Fero et al. in 2008 established that, newly qualified nurses or even some experienced nurses still lack the skill of critical thinking than nurses who has years of experience and are taught extensively.
These nurses that are superior in critical thinking skills are likely to perform better but it is also difficult to know how individual nurses will react on emergency situations in practice. The combination of theory and practice proved to be advantageous in the nursing profession. In that case, nurse educators are, therefore or should be, highly skilled with critical thinking. If they are properly trained, they should be able to facilitate students in both theory and practice on how to think critically through subjective thinking and reflective thinking.
Despite this, reflective thinking seemed to be more effective because they enable students to understand and critic their experiences with the guidance of their mentor rather than doing the task in accordance to the policy without any explanations whatsoever. It also empowers students and preceptor to ask questions and convey information which will help both, know and understand the rationale behind their nursing actions (Forneris & Peden-McAlpine 2009). On the whole, nursing is an ever changing profession due to the demands of society and the changes in political and economic climate.
It is a profession that requires physical, mental and emotional well-being. However, nurses are still exceedingly caring individuals in comparison to others who are not. They should also be capable of empathy to promote a therapeutic bond with patients because it is essential, not only for their patients’ health and well-being but also for themselves. Moreover, being emotionally intelligent gives nurses a high self-concept, which helps them use empathy in the right way. This can also influence on their ability to think critically on distressful situations which is vital for patient safety.
Even though it is not clear on what is meant by a ‘good nurse’, it can be argued that the root makings of a good nurse are the abilities and characters such as caring, empathy, emotional intelligence and critical thinking. These attributes are also mostly highly recommended to be included in the institutional curricula for student nurses to learn and develop. Although, this essay focused more on characteristics of a good nurse, but at the same time as a quotation goes, it is not the strongest of the species that survives, or the most intelligent, but the one that is most responsive to change (Darwin 2012).