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5 Things Successful Nurses Do Differently

You know those nurses on your unit that just seem to always be there and are a wealth of knowledge? They might be the most experienced nurses on your unit, or maybe they’re the most educated. BUT… maybe they just put in a few extra hours per week to actually read their emails and attend a couple extra meetings per month!

You know these nurses. They’re kind, they’re smart, they’re present, and they’re successful. What is it that really sets them apart?

1. Successful nurses have top-notch communication!

Listening attentively is sometimes a difficult task when being pulled in 10 different directions at once. You have a zillion things on your mind at all times because, well, you’re a nurse. Stopping those thoughts for just 30 seconds for your coworker, patient, supervisor, etc, can make all the difference in affectively communicating. This includes eye contact. Having this open line of communication is welcoming to others and rids that “unapproachable” vibe, which is a common barrier.

Successful nurses are open to new ideas and weigh all options before making a decision. This is important to note because successful nurses are not always right and don’t always know everything. They are resourceful with the input of others!

Aforementioned, they check their email. As silly as it sounds, we are bombarded by emails everyday and it is definitely a task to filter through what’s important and what can be scrolled past. It has to be done, though! Many emails include policy/procedure changes and staffing updates that could come back to bite ya if you miss them.

2. Successful nurses set goals!

We’ve all heard of having 1, 5, and 10-year plans but what about setting a goal for every shift? It may be difficult to get started on this routine but it becomes much easier after a few shifts. I like to think about it like the annoying paperwork that haunted us in nursing school...

“What did you do well today?”

“What didn’t you do well today?”

“What are some things you need to improve on and how will you achieve them?”

Sorry to those of you having flashbacks. You get the gist. Successful nurses reflect on their shift and set goals for the next!

3. Successful nurses have a positive attitude!

It’s really easy to fall into the habit of a bad attitude at work, especially a high-stress field such as healthcare. Many studies have proven that we are happier when we force a smile and laugh. The power of a smile can make your patient’s day better, even if for just a moment. Is it just for a moment, though? Can we change our patients’ road to recovery through positivity?

Try not to talk negatively about patients, their families and coworkers. Even if you have difficult situations to deal with, try to keep your own comments to a minimum and only state the facts. It’s so often that I’m receiving report and the nurse leaving says something like, “Oh good luck, it’s going to be a rough shift…”

Pleeeeeease don’t do this to your oncoming nurse! It prematurely sets a negative tone for their shift. We are here for our patients, let’s act like it!

4. Successful nurses are educated!

All nurses are educated. We go through 2+ years of very difficult coursework, however, learning doesn’t stop at nursing school. We have endless opportunities of certifications, conferences, degrees, etc. Have your BLS? How about go for that ACLS and PALS! These are resume builders and can open doors for you in your nursing career. Certifications such as CCRN (Critical Care Registered Nurse) and PCCN (Progressive Care Certified Nurse) are based on national standards and are often desired by employers. These show that you are invested in your field and want to provide safe, exceptional care based on current best practices.

Aside from certifications (which often cost money), some common goals to work towards within your unit include becoming a preceptor and/or charge nurse. Every unit has their own requirements for these positions but most hospitals offer a small compensation on top of your hourly wage.

Maybe you’ve done all of these things! In which case, you are awesome. There is ALWAYS more, though. Hospitals, non-profit organizations, universities, and other nursing associations offer conferences all over the country. An easy way to get in the “know” about these conferences is to subscribe to emails from associations related to your field. For example, I am a critical care nurse, and I am a member of AACN (American Association of Critical-Care Nurses), therefore, I get emails with medical journals, local conferences, and critical care practice references.

5. Successful nurses are involved!

Burnout is real, and I’m not advocating doing that to yourself. BUT. Successful nurses are present and involved in their unit. They pick up hours when they can and help their coworkers out! Maybe working above your scheduled hours just isn’t your thing – and that’s okay! Years experience in your chosen specialty is also important in developing routines and expertise that will make you a resource to your department.

Overtime isn’t the only way to be involved in your unit, though, my friends. Unit councils are a great way to get to know your coworkers and provide resources for your unit. If your unit doesn’t have any councils, you could get one started! Some common focuses of unit councils are skin, safety, and social/celebrations.


The list of what sets successful nurses apart could go on and on. The reality is that success is a personal measure, meaning all of these points may not be as important to you as they are to another nurse.

Pick a few things you are passionate about and stick to them. The beauty of having a career in nursing is it is completely malleable to you as an individual. We as individuals are ever-changing and we are lucky to work in a field that leaves room for such. The bottom line is that our patients are our priority. While we seek to better ourselves in life, we are also doing this to provide the best care possible for those in need.

About the author:

Danika Ryan is a Registered Nurse from Minnesota, where she currently works in a cardiac surgery Intensive Care Unit. As a Midwest gal who loves to travel, Danika loves music and even plays violin in her free time for fun and to alleviate stress. Follow Danika on Instagram!