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What Are Basic Nursing Skills?

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Aspiring nurses must have certain basic nursing skills to provide quality patient care. In addition to the professional licensing required for various nursing positions, there are fundamental skills that every nurse needs to be successful and employable. Detail-oriented nurses who communicate well with patients, other health care professionals and patients' families usually are successful in their field. Critical thinking and prudent decision-making abilities also are skills that nurses need to have. Lifelong learners and people who are capable of adapting to changing environments and circumstances also are valuable workers in the health care industry.


All of these basic nursing skills – attention to detail, critical thinking and decision making skills, written and verbal communication skills, and the desire to continually acquire knowledge – are necessary for nurses at every level to provide basic nursing care. That said, basic nursing duties and responsibilities vary according to the nurse's education and license level.

Nurse Levels and Positions

There are four primary designations for professional nurses, ranging from certified nursing assistant to advanced practice registered nurse. The designations are based on the level of basic nursing knowledge and the type of nursing care you want to provide. In some cases, your ultimate career path may determine which classification of nursing interests you. For example, if you aspire to be an advanced practice registered nurse but have had no exposure to the health care field, you might want to test the waters by first becoming a certified nursing assistant and working your way through school to eventually become a registered nurse.

Certified Nursing Assistant

The time it takes to become a nursing assistant can be as short as three weeks and as long as eight weeks, depending on whether you enroll in a full-time or part-time state-approved training program. Once you successfully pass a state examination that shows you have basic nursing knowledge, you can become a certified nursing assistant (CNA). Check state laws for specific examination prerequisites – you might find that a CNA practice test gives you an idea of what to expect when you sit for the exam. As a CNA, your primary duties include assisting patients with hygiene tasks such as bathing and dressing, transferring patients from wheelchair to bed, measuring their vital signs, and communicating patients' concerns to other health care providers responsible for their care.

Licensed Practical Nurse or Licensed Vocational Nurse

After completing one year of training at an approved technical institute or an accredited educational institution and passing the state exam, you can become a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN). The nursing skills test questions for your state licensing exam may vary depending on your state. Once you become an LPN or LVN, your duties might include measuring patients' vital signs, inserting intravenous tubes or catheters, participating in a patient's care plan, and communicating with patients' families about their care. When you learn more about the nursing field by working in different settings, you may find that you want additional education so that you can specialize in an area of particular interest to you.

Registered Nurse

There are a couple of educational paths to becoming a registered nurse: an associate degree in nursing (ADN), which takes up to two years to complete, and a bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN), which might take three or so years to complete. Registered nurses work in a number of different health care settings from long-term care facilities to hospitals and operating rooms. Before you can begin working, you need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and certify your skills through passing any state-specific requirements or exams. RNs typically are responsible for maintaining patients' charts, communicating with physicians and carrying out physicians' orders. They also track patients' symptoms, perform an initial assessment based on patient history and information, and assess patient care progress.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

If you're interested in becoming an RN, who does more than track patients' symptoms and carry out physicians' orders, you might consider going for a Master of Science degree in nursing to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). With more education, you can specialize in certain areas or dedicate your nursing practice to doing more extensive work, such as ordering or even conducting diagnostic tests and interpreting the results, treating ailments that don't require an invasive or surgical approach, conducting research, and helping train nurses new to the field. Within the APRN designation are four specializations: nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists and certified nurse practitioners. All of these advanced areas require state-specific exams. Exams for the advanced practice contain nursing skills test questions that verify you have more than basic nursing knowledge.


Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In addition, she earned both the SHRM-Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), through the Society for Human Resource Management, and certification as a Senior Professional Human Resources (SPHR) through the Human Resources Certification Institute. Ruth also is certified as a facilitator for the Center for Creative Leadership Benchmarks 360 Assessment Suite, and is a Logical Operations Modern Classroom Certified Trainer. Ruth resides in North Carolina and works from her office in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

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