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The Importance of Critical Thinking in Nursing

There has never been a more important time where critical thinking skills are needed in the medical and nursing profession than today. Now more than ever, it’s important for nurse professionals to develop and learn critical thinking skills as part of their training and career development. But what exactly are critical thinking skills, and why are they so necessary in this profession?

While pursuing a degree, a certification or any type of education in nursing, you will notice that critical thinking skills have been added to the curriculum and are needed to pass exams, clinicals and other types of tests to ensure you are ready to put your skills to use. After all, many situations that nurses will be put in come with thinking quickly, accurately, empathically, and so on. So, let’s talk more about critical skills and what exactly they are for.

What are Critical Thinking Skills?

“The role of critical thinking in the practice of nursing and other healthcare disciplines cannot be overemphasized,” writes Berthina Coleman, MD, BSN, RN, in CEUfast’s Online Critical Thinking CE Course. She continues to explain that over the course of a nurse's career, they should “commit themselves to continued practice of critical thinking skills in order to maintain proficiency in critical thinking.”

Critical thinking, according to, is a “rich concept that has been developing throughout the past 2,500 years.” When someone learns this skill set, they are learning “clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness…” in whatever expertise they are pursuing or studying.

In the same article, states that critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by imposing intellectual standards upon them. In fact, once someone learns critical thinking skills, they should be able to raise important questions, have relevant information to come up with well-reasoned and thoughtful conclusions and solutions, as well as think with an open mind and can communicate effectively with others while finding the solution to a complex situation or problem.

It’s also good to remember that critical thinking skills can vary with individuals, as well as vary depending on the motivation behind it. Some are quicker, on the spot and have better reaction time to situations that may involve higher thinking and executing. And, critical thinking skills are a life-long endeavor, where you end up using them and learning more with practice. So, now that we have a better understanding of what type of skills are involved, we can now understand and apply them to the world of nursing.

How Can Nurses Implement Critical Thinking Skills?

nurse and doctor evaluating patient

When you go into a hospital, visit a specialist or any place you might find a nurse, you will notice they are almost always implementing critical thinking skills. These skills are very important in the practice of nursing because there are very few situations that don’t involve some type of evaluating, understanding and implementing various degrees of knowledge learned and acquired to take care of your patients.

In order for nurses to make a connection between nursing research and practice, per American Sentinel, nurses must:

  • Build their critical thinking characteristics, such as creativity, patience and confidence
  • Seek out learning experiences and experiential knowledge to build their intellectual skills and competencies
  • Build their interpersonal skills (teamwork, resolving conflict, taking and learning from constructive criticism) and competencies
  • Practice their technical skills until they are second nature

According to CEUfast’s Critical Thinking Course, there are a few different attributes that must be present and effective in order for critical thinking skills to be used correctly and efficiently. The Von Colln-Appling & Guiliano theory states that these attributes are: knowledge acquisition, knowledge application, analysis of information, and decision-making and reflection.

  • Knowledge Acquisition & Knowledge Application: In order to gain proficiency in critical thinking, nurses must first demonstrate competence in expected knowledge base, including disease processes, treatment options, adverse medication reactions and side effects; fundamental knowledge is needed to start a career in nursing and expand on it.
  • Analysis of Information: Nurses are expected to analyze and prioritize clinical information when providing patient care, like interpreting lab values, reviewing test results, identifying when a patient’s clinical status is declining and knowing the expected course of a disease process.
  • Informed Decisions Making: Informed decision-making is a skill that must be taught to nursing students before they enter the workforce. The practice and execution of informed consent can have positive and negative consequences on patient outcomes. Nurses and nursing students can become inundated with clinical data daily, which can be irrelevant, relevant, but not urgent, relevant, and urgent or critical. Nurses are expected to analyze this information promptly and make decisions expeditiously. Note that a strong knowledge base and nursing foundation will accurately impact the nurse's ability to practice informed decision-making.
  • Reflection: Reflection allows for improvement in future scenarios since it gives team members the chance to review each action to determine if it was appropriate and timely. It can also enable the team to examine the role of team members or adjust systems and processes that are applied in the critical thinking process. It also permits the individual or group to identify gaps in knowledge that need to be remediated. Lastly, reflection allows for creative thinking as a means of enhancing cognitive growth.

Other ways to grow your critical thinking skills can include reaching out and finding a mentor with more experience to show you a few pointers, or joining a professional organization. Making sure you continue to ask questions when you may not fully understand something, as well as when you are confronted with a problem, try to find ways to solve it with facts and gathering information. After all, you can never undervalue the concept of education and make sure you continue to enlighten yourself on your career path.

And while these skills are particularly used in nursing, they can also be carried over to other professions and narrowed down to each specific industry, where critical skills are needed. But why are they needed?

Why are Critical Thinking Skills Necessary?

stick figure thinking under critical thinking skills graphic

By learning, developing and finally mastering critical thinking skills, nurses can become leaders in their industry, making sure that these skills are passed down to others and setting new precedents in the industry. As leaders in their field, they can challenge assumptions, develop more understanding about problem solutions and create more solutions to issues seen in hospitals and other medical related facilities.

Nursing essentially comes down to: assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation and evaluation. And once you begin to master this process, you can go further in your career path as a nursing professional.

Critical thinking is imperative for nurses, and remains a highly valued skill in the nursing profession – especially in today’s world. In fact, nurses are continuingly pushed to work in increasingly complex healthcare systems and are asked to integrate nursing practice with ever-changing advances in technology. CEUfast’s course states, “Proficiency in critical thinking is ultimately the responsibility of each nurse.” And in order to keep those skills sharp, continuing your education is key to maintaining and ensuring they grow and get better.

Try CEUfast today!