Nurse educators spend countless hours with students in classrooms and clinical rotations, preparing them to use practical decision-making skills and sound judgment for healthy and safe patient care. As such, nurse educators must also ensure that students can incorporate critical thinking skills into everyday practice.
Critical thinking skills for nurses include problem-solving and the ability to evaluate situations and make recommendations. Done correctly, critical thinking results in positive patient outcomes, Srinidhi Lakhanigam, an RN-BSN, said in a Minority Nurse article.
“Critical thinking is the result of a combination of innate curiosity; a strong foundation of theoretical knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, disease processes, and normal and abnormal lab values; and an orientation for thinking on your feet,” Lakhanigam said in “Critical Thinking: A Vital Trait for Nurses.” “Combining this with a strong passion for patient care will produce positive patient outcomes. The critical thinking nurse has an open mind and draws heavily upon evidence-based research and past clinical experiences to solve patient problems.”
Since the 1980s, critical thinking has become a widely discussed component of nurse education, and a significant factor for National League for Nursing (NLN) nursing school accreditation. Nursing school curriculum is expected to teach students how to analyze situations and develop solutions based on high-order thinking skills. For nurse educators who are responsible for undergraduate and graduate learners, teaching critical thinking skills is crucial to the future of healthcare.
Characteristics of Critical Thinkers
A landmark 1990 study found critical thinkers demonstrate similar characteristics. The Delphi Report by the American Philosophical Association (APA) identified these cognitive skills common to critical thinkers:
Critical thinkers are able to categorize and decode the significance and meaning of experiences, situations, data, events, and rules, among others.
Critical thinkers can examine varying ideas, statements, questions, descriptions and concepts and analyze the reasoning.
Critical thinkers consider relevant information from evidence to draw conclusions.
Critical thinkers state the results of their reasoning through sound arguments.
Critical thinkers monitor their cognitive abilities to reflect on their motivations and correct their mistakes.
In addition, critical thinkers are well-informed and concerned about a wide variety of topics. They are flexible to alternative ideas and opinions and are honest when facing personal biases. They have a willingness to reconsider their views when change is warranted.
In nursing, critical thinking and clinical reasoning are inextricably linked, columnist Margaret McCartney said in the BMJ. While experienced nurses are able to make sound clinical judgements quickly and accurately, novice nurses find the process more difficult, McCartney said in “Nurses must be allowed to exercise professional judgment.”
“Therefore, education must begin at the undergraduate level to develop students’ critical thinking and clinical reasoning skills,” McCartney said. “Clinical reasoning is a learnt skill requiring determination and active engagement in deliberate practice design to improve performance. In order to acquire such skills, students need to develop critical thinking ability, as well as an understanding of how judgments and decisions are reached in complex healthcare environments.”
Teaching Critical Thinking to Nurses
In 2015, a study in the Journal of College Teaching & Learning found a positive correlation between critical thinking skills and success in nursing school. The study said, “It is the responsibility of nurse educators to ensure that nursing graduates have developed the critical thinking abilities necessary to practice the profession of nursing.”
To help new nurses develop critical-thinking skills, the professional development resources provider Lippincott Solutions recommended nurse educators focus on the following in the classroom:
Collaboration and learning in group settings help nursing students achieve a greater understanding of the content.
Asking open-ended questions
Open-ended questions encourage students to think about possible answers and respond without fear of giving a “wrong” answer.
Providing time for students to reflect on questions
Student nurses should be encouraged to deliberate and ponder questions and possible responses and understand that perhaps the immediate answer is not always the best answer.
Teaching for skills to transfer
Educators should provide opportunities for student nurses to see how their skills can apply to various situations and experiences.
In the Minority Nurse article, Lakhanigam also said students who thirst for knowledge and understanding make the best critical thinkers. The author said novice nurses who are open to constructive criticism can learn valuable lessons that will translate into successful practice.
At the same time, however, critical thinking skills alone will not ensure success in the profession, Lakhanigam said in the article. Other factors count as well.
“A combination of open-mindedness, a solid foundational knowledge of disease processes, and continuous learning, coupled with a compassionate heart and great clinical preceptors, can ensure that every new nurse will be a critical thinker positively affecting outcomes at the bedside,” Lakhanigam said.
Another element that ensures success as both an educator and student is earning a nursing degree from a school that focuses on student accomplishments. At Duquesne University’s School of Nursing, students learn best practices in healthcare. The online master’s in nursing program prepares educators to train the next generation of nurses.
About Duquesne University’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Program
Duquesne University’s MSN curriculum for the Nursing Education and Faculty Role program focuses on preparing registered nurses (RNs) for careers as nurse educators. Students enrolled in the online master’s in nursing program learn the skills needed in the classroom and for clinical training. RNs learn how to empower student nurses to work to their fullest potential.
The MSN program is presented entirely online, so RNs can pursue their career goals and continue personal responsibilities simultaneously. Duquesne University has been recognized for excellence in education as a U.S. News & World Report Best Online Graduate Nursing Program and best among Roman Catholic universities in the nation.
For more information, contact Duquesne University today.
Critical Thinking: A Vital Trait for Nurses: Minority Nurse
Consensus Descriptions of Core CT Skills And Sub-Skills: Delphi
Margaret McCartney: Nurses must be allowed to exercise professional judgment: BMJ
Predicting Success in Nursing Programs: Journal of College Teaching & Learning
Turning New Nurses Into Critical Thinkers: Wolters Kluwer