More than one high school student has sat in a guidance counselor's office and asked what the basic skills of a nurse are. Unfortunately, that question is a lot easier to ask than it is to answer. Nursing is such a diverse career field that there's no simple formula to follow in describing the skill sets required. What might be routine and mundane for one type of nurse could be an extraordinary task for another. It all depends on the type of nursing you are doing and facility where you work.
With all that said, there are some basic fundamental skills all nurses will learn during their educational program. These skills are typically used in hospitals, nursing homes, doctor’s offices, and health clinics. Even individuals who plan to go into business administration or healthcare delivery systems will still learn these skills as part of basic nurse training. Those who master them are prepared to begin work in a variety of institutions. These skills include:
- personal hygiene
- measuring vital signs
- cleaning and dressing wounds
- patient bathing and grooming
- moving and transportation of patients
- emergency first aid procedures
When talking about personal hygiene as it relates to the nurse, we're talking about more than simply making sure patients are kept clean. Believe it or not, more important than patient cleanliness is the personal hygiene of the nurse herself. Hospitals and health clinics are a breeding ground for all sorts of nasty germs including many varieties of potentially dangerous staph. Nursing students are thoroughly versed in all things relating to personal hygiene as a means of protecting both themselves and their patients. Personal hygiene skills include:
- regular washing of hands
- sterilization of needles and other instruments
- the appropriate use of latex gloves and other protective clothing
Measuring Vital Signs
In an emergency situation the nurse will be measuring vital signs potentially as a matter of life and death. He or she will need to know how to check a patient's pulse, measure blood pressure, measure breathing capacity, take the temperature, and so on. In a less stressful environment, such as a private doctor's practice, taking the vital signs is very different. In such a setting nurses will also generally be responsible for height and weight measurements as well.
The importance of measuring vital signs correctly cannot be underestimated. Doctors rely on the accuracy of those measurements in order to make treatment decisions. If a nurse reports shallow breathing and an unusually high heart rate, for example, doctors may call for a specific type of immediate treatment. But if the heart rate has been reported inaccurately, the choice of treatment could prove to be a problem. Nursing students practice taking vital signs over and over again until they can get it right without having to think about it.
Cleaning and Dressing Wounds
Another basic skill nurses learn is how to properly clean and dress wounds. Such procedures are fairly easy and are left to nurses so doctors can do more complicated procedures. However, just because cleaning and dressing wounds is easy doesn't mean it can be done carelessly or without thought. A wound not properly cleaned and dressed could end up developing an infection. And as any nurse knows, an infected wound leads to many more complications that are completely unnecessary.
Patient Bathing and Grooming
This is a skill that's rarely put to the test except in a hospital or nursing home situation. But since 60% of all nurses’ work in a hospital environment, it is a necessary skill to have. Patient bathing and grooming includes:
- giving sponge baths
- washing and setting hair
- cleaning and cutting fingernails and toenails
Bathing and grooming are good skills to have for several reasons. First of all, a patient who is not kept clean is one who will not get well as quickly as possible. Second, when the patient is clean and well groomed that often helps to boost his or her spirits which, in turn, might then aid in his recovery. While bathing and grooming is one of the least appreciated tasks for many nurses, it serves a vital purpose from the patient's perspective.
Moving and Transportation of Patients
When we talk of moving patients we are referring to things like getting them out of bed and into a wheelchair. This is a very important skill which relies as much on the principles of physics as it does brute strength. There are some nurses who have a natural knack for this, while others struggle with it throughout their careers. At the very minimum, nurses must know the basic procedures for moving patients safely.
As for patient transportation, this is the idea of using wheelchairs, beds, and other resources to transport patients to various locations within a facility. While this task may not seem to be something that requires a high degree of skill, remember that nurses must often transport patients while also dealing with IVs and other medically necessary equipment. They need to learn how to properly transport patients without disrupting the operation of such equipment.
Emergency First Aid Procedures
Every nursing student will be taught certain basic first aid procedures for use in life-threatening situations. One of the most common procedures is cardiopulmonary resuscitation, otherwise known as CPR. It is necessary for nurses to master these first aid skills because the life of a patient may someday depend on it.
If you're interested in a career in nursing these are some of the basic skills you will be required to learn and demonstrate proficiency in. But as previously stated, plan on learning many other skills that apply to the specific area of nursing you'll be working in. And always remember that the more skilled you are as a nurse, the more beneficial you are to your patients and your employer. Never underestimate the value of being a highly skilled individual.