U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The .gov means it’s official. Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.

The site is secure. The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

  • Publications
  • Account settings
  • Advanced Search
  • Journal List
  • Acta Inform Med
  • v.22(4); 2014 Aug

Critical Thinking: The Development of an Essential Skill for Nursing Students

Ioanna v. papathanasiou.

1 Nursing Department, Technological Educational Institute of Thessaly, Greece

Christos F. Kleisiaris

2 Nursing Department, Technological Educational Institute of Crete, Greece

Evangelos C. Fradelos

3 State Mental Hospital of Attica “Daphne”, Greece

Katerina Kakou

Lambrini kourkouta.

4 Nursing Department, Alexander Technological Educational Institute of Thessaloniki, Greece

Critical thinking is defined as the mental process of actively and skillfully perception, analysis, synthesis and evaluation of collected information through observation, experience and communication that leads to a decision for action. In nursing education there is frequent reference to critical thinking and to the significance that it has in daily clinical nursing practice. Nursing clinical instructors know that students face difficulties in making decisions related to clinical practice. The main critical thinking skills in which nursing students should be exercised during their studies are critical analysis, introductory and concluding justification, valid conclusion, distinguish of facts and opinions, evaluation the credibility of information sources, clarification of concepts and recognition of conditions. Specific behaviors are essentials for enhancing critical thinking. Nursing students in order to learn and apply critical thinking should develop independence of thought, fairness, perspicacity in personal and social level, humility, spiritual courage, integrity, perseverance, self-confidence, interest for research and curiosity. Critical thinking is an essential process for the safe, efficient and skillful nursing practice. The nursing education programs should adopt attitudes that promote critical thinking and mobilize the skills of critical reasoning.


Critical thinking is applied by nurses in the process of solving problems of patients and decision-making process with creativity to enhance the effect. It is an essential process for a safe, efficient and skillful nursing intervention. Critical thinking according to Scriven and Paul is the mental active process and subtle perception, analysis, synthesis and evaluation of information collected or derived from observation, experience, reflection, reasoning or the communication leading to conviction for action ( 1 ).

So, nurses must adopt positions that promote critical thinking and refine skills of critical reasoning in order a meaningful assessment of both the previous and the new information and decisions taken daily on hospitalization and use of limited resources, forces you to think and act in cases where there are neither clear answers nor specific procedures and where opposing forces transform decision making in a complex process ( 2 ).

Critical thinking applies to nurses as they have diverse multifaceted knowledge to handle the various situations encountered during their shifts still face constant changes in an environment with constant stress of changing conditions and make important decisions using critical thinking to collect and interpret information that are necessary for making a decision ( 3 ).

Critical thinking, combined with creativity, refine the result as nurses can find specific solutions to specific problems with creativity taking place where traditional interventions are not effective. Even with creativity, nurses generate new ideas quickly, get flexible and natural, create original solutions to problems, act independently and with confidence, even under pressure, and demonstrate originality ( 4 ).

The aim of the study is to present the basic skills of critical thinking, to highlight critical thinking as a essential skill for nursing education and a fundamental skill for decision making in nursing practice. Moreover to indicate the positive effect and relation that critical thinking has on professional outcomes.


Nurses in their efforts to implement critical thinking should develop some methods as well as cognitive skills required in analysis, problem solving and decision making ( 5 ). These skills include critical analysis, introductory and concluding justification, valid conclusion, distinguishing facts and opinions to assess the credibility of sources of information, clarification of concepts, and recognition conditions ( 6 , 7 ).

Critical analysis is applied to a set of questions that relate to the event or concept for the determination of important information and ideas and discarding the unnecessary ones. It is, thus, a set of criteria to rationalize an idea where one must know all the questions but to use the appropriate one in this case ( 8 ).

The Socratic Method, where the question and the answer are sought, is a technique in which one can investigate below the surface, recognize and examine the condition, look for the consequences, investigate the multiple data views and distinguish between what one knows and what he simply believes. This method should be implemented by nurses at the end of their shifts, when reviewing patient history and progress, planning the nursing plan or discussing the treatment of a patient with colleagues ( 9 ).

The Inference and Concluding justification are two other critical thinking skills, where the justification for inductive generalizations formed from a set of data and observations, which when considered together, specific pieces of information constitute a special interpretation ( 10 ). In contrast, the justification is deduced from the general to the specific. According to this, nurse starts from a conceptual framework–for example, the prioritization of needs by Maslow or a context–evident and gives descriptive interpretation of the patient’s condition with respect to this framework. So, the nurse who uses drawing needs categorizes information and defines the problem of the patient based on eradication, nutrition or need protection.

In critical thinking, the nurses still distinguish claims based on facts, conclusions, judgments and opinions. The assessment of the reliability of information is an important stage of critical thinking, where the nurse needs to confirm the accuracy of this information by checking other evidence and informants ( 10 ).

The concepts are ideas and opinions that represent objects in the real world and the importance of them. Each person has developed its own concepts, where they are nested by others, either based on personal experience or study or other activities. For a clear understanding of the situation of the patient, the nurse and the patient should be in agreement with the importance of concepts.

People also live under certain assumptions. Many believe that people generally have a generous nature, while others believe that it is a human tendency to act in its own interest. The nurse must believe that life should be considered as invaluable regardless of the condition of the patient, with the patient often believing that quality of life is more important than duration. Nurse and patient, realizing that they can make choices based on these assumptions, can work together for a common acceptable nursing plan ( 11 ).


The person applying critical thinking works to develop the following attitudes and characteristics independence of thought, fairness, insight into the personal and public level, humble intellect and postpone the crisis, spiritual courage, integrity, perseverance, self-confidence, research interest considerations not only behind the feelings and emotions but also behind the thoughts and curiosity ( 12 ).

Independence of Thought

Individuals who apply critical thinking as they mature acquire knowledge and experiences and examine their beliefs under new evidence. The nurses do not remain to what they were taught in school, but are “open-minded” in terms of different intervention methods technical skills.


Those who apply critical thinking are independent in different ways, based on evidence and not panic or personal and group biases. The nurse takes into account the views of both the younger and older family members.

Perspicacity into Personal and Social Factors

Those who are using critical thinking and accept the possibility that their personal prejudices, social pressures and habits could affect their judgment greatly. So, they try to actively interpret their prejudices whenever they think and decide.

Humble Cerebration and Deferral Crisis

Humble intellect means to have someone aware of the limits of his own knowledge. So, those who apply critical thinking are willing to admit they do not know something and believe that what we all consider rectum cannot always be true, because new evidence may emerge.

Spiritual Courage

The values and beliefs are not always obtained by rationality, meaning opinions that have been researched and proven that are supported by reasons and information. The courage should be true to their new ground in situations where social penalties for incompatibility are strict. In many cases the nurses who supported an attitude according to which if investigations are proved wrong, they are canceled.

Use of critical thinking to mentally intact individuals question their knowledge and beliefs quickly and thoroughly and cause the knowledge of others so that they are willing to admit and appreciate inconsistencies of both their own beliefs and the beliefs of the others.


The perseverance shown by nurses in exploring effective solutions for patient problems and nursing each determination helps to clarify concepts and to distinguish related issues despite the difficulties and failures. Using critical thinking they resist the temptation to find a quick and simple answer to avoid uncomfortable situations such as confusion and frustration.

Confidence in the Justification

According to critical thinking through well motivated reasoning leads to reliable conclusions. Using critical thinking nurses develop both the inductive and the deductive reasoning. The nurse gaining more experience of mental process and improvement, does not hesitate to disagree and be troubled thereby acting as a role model to colleagues, inspiring them to develop critical thinking.

Interesting Thoughts and Feelings for Research

Nurses need to recognize, examine and inspect or modify the emotions involved with critical thinking. So, if they feel anger, guilt and frustration for some event in their work, they should follow some steps: To restrict the operations for a while to avoid hasty conclusions and impulsive decisions, discuss negative feelings with a trusted, consume some of the energy produced by emotion, for example, doing calisthenics or walking, ponder over the situation and determine whether the emotional response is appropriate. After intense feelings abate, the nurse will be able to proceed objectively to necessary conclusions and to take the necessary decisions.

The internal debate, that has constantly in mind that the use of critical thinking is full of questions. So, a research nurse calculates traditions but does not hesitate to challenge them if you do not confirm their validity and reliability.


In their shifts nurses act effectively without using critical thinking as many decisions are mainly based on habit and have a minimum reflection. Thus, higher critical thinking skills are put into operation, when some new ideas or needs are displayed to take a decision beyond routine. The nursing process is a systematic, rational method of planning and providing specialized nursing ( 13 ). The steps of the nursing process are assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, evaluation. The health care is setting the priorities of the day to apply critical thinking ( 14 ). Each nurse seeks awareness of reasoning as he/she applies the criteria and considerations and as thinking evolves ( 15 ).

Problem Solving

Problem solving helps to acquire knowledge as nurse obtains information explaining the nature of the problem and recommends possible solutions which evaluate and select the application of the best without rejecting them in a possible appeal of the original. Also, it approaches issues when solving problems that are often used is the empirical method, intuition, research process and the scientific method modified ( 16 ).

Experiential Method

This method is mainly used in home care nursing interventions where they cannot function properly because of the tools and equipment that are incomplete ( 17 ).

Intuition is the perception and understanding of concepts without the conscious use of reasoning. As a problem solving approach, as it is considered by many, is a form of guessing and therefore is characterized as an inappropriate basis for nursing decisions. But others see it as important and legitimate aspect of the crisis gained through knowledge and experience. The clinical experience allows the practitioner to recognize items and standards and approach the right conclusions. Many nurses are sensing the evolution of the patient’s condition which helps them to act sooner although the limited information. Despite the fact that the intuitive method of solving problems is recognized as part of nursing practice, it is not recommended for beginners or students because the cognitive level and the clinical experience is incomplete and does not allow a valid decision ( 16 ).

Research Process / Scientifically Modified Method

The research method is a worded, rational and systematic approach to problem solving. Health professionals working in uncontrolled situations need to implement a modified approach of the scientific method of problem solving. With critical thinking being important in all processes of problem solving, the nurse considers all possible solutions and decides on the choice of the most appropriate solution for each case ( 18 ).

The Decision

The decision is the selection of appropriate actions to fulfill the desired objective through critical thinking. Decisions should be taken when several exclusive options are available or when there is a choice of action or not. The nurse when facing multiple needs of patients, should set priorities and decide the order in which they help their patients. They should therefore: a) examine the advantages and disadvantages of each option, b) implement prioritization needs by Maslow, c) assess what actions can be delegated to others, and d) use any framework implementation priorities. Even nurses make decisions about their personal and professional lives. The successive stages of decision making are the Recognition of Objective or Purpose, Definition of criteria, Calculation Criteria, Exploration of Alternative Solutions, Consideration of Alternative Solutions, Design, Implementation, Evaluation result ( 16 ).

The contribution of critical thinking in decision making

Acquiring critical thinking and opinion is a question of practice. Critical thinking is not a phenomenon and we should all try to achieve some level of critical thinking to solve problems and make decisions successfully ( 19 - 21 ).

It is vital that the alteration of growing research or application of the Socratic Method or other technique since nurses revise the evaluation criteria of thinking and apply their own reasoning. So when they have knowledge of their own reasoning-as they apply critical thinking-they can detect syllogistic errors ( 22 – 26 ).


In responsible positions nurses should be especially aware of the climate of thought that is implemented and actively create an environment that stimulates and encourages diversity of opinion and research ideas ( 27 ). The nurses will also be applied to investigate the views of people from different cultures, religions, social and economic levels, family structures and different ages. Managing nurses should encourage colleagues to scrutinize the data prior to draw conclusions and to avoid “group thinking” which tends to vary without thinking of the will of the group. Critical thinking is an essential process for the safe, efficient and skillful nursing practice. The nursing education programs should adopt attitudes that promote critical thinking and mobilize the skills of critical reasoning.


Why Critical Thinking Is Important in Nursing

Most nursing professionals have natural nurturing abilities, a desire to give others support, and an appreciation for science and anatomy. Successful nurses also possess a skill that is often overlooked: they can think critically.

A critical thinker will identify the problem, determine the best solution, and choose the most effective method. Critical thinkers evaluate the execution of a plan to see if it was effective and if it could have been done better. 

The ability to think critically has multiple applications in your life, as you can see. But Why is critical thinking important in nursing? Learn why and how you can improve this skill by reading on.

 Why Critical Thinking Is Important in Nursing?

Why Are Critical Thinking Skills in Nursing Important?

Critical thinking is an essential skill for nursing students to have. It’s not something that it can teach in a classroom, and it must be developed over time through experience and practice. 

Critical thinking is the process of applying logic and reason to make decisions or solve problems. The ability to think critically will help you make better decisions on your own and collaborate with others when solving problems – both are essential skills for nurses.

Nursing has always been a profession that relies on critical thinking. Nurses are constantly faced with new situations and problems, which they need to think critically about to solve. 

Critical thinking is essential for nurses because it helps them make decisions based on the available information and their past experiences and knowledge of the field. It also allows nurses to plan before making any changes to be most effective as possible.

It is an essential skill for nurses to have to provide the best care possible. Critical thinkers can comprehend a problem and think about how they can solve it, rather than reactively or automatically.

Critical thinking is a crucial skill for doctors, nurses, and other health care providers.

How can you develop your critical thinking skills?

As you know, learning doesn’t end when you graduate from nursing school. You must continue to grow as a professional and develop your critical thinking skills.

Critical thinkers are better problem solvers than others in the same situation because they examine all the facts before coming up with solutions. They can also take many different perspectives into account when solving problems.

It’s easy for people to come to conclusions too quickly, but those who think critically will avoid this trap by first looking at every possible angle.

When faced with difficult decisions, these nurses won’t just rely on their gut feelings or what seems right according to society’s norms; instead, they’ll analyze all available information carefully until they develop the best solution.

Critical thinking is also crucial because it helps nurses avoid making mistakes in their work by providing them with a way to examine each situation and identify any potential risks or problems that may arise from subsequent actions before they take place.

It’s not enough for you to have empathy if your compassion isn’t backed up by critical thought and understanding of how certain decisions might affect others in various circumstances, so keep learning ways to become more thoughtful about the world around you.

The skills involved in being a good nurse are many and varied, but one thing all nurses need, regardless of what specialty they choose, is critical solid thinking abilities.

Reasons Critical Thinking In Nursing Is Important

Nurses’ experiences often include making life-altering decisions, establishing authority in stressful situations, and helping patients and their loved ones cope with some of the most stressful and emotional times of their lives.  Critical thinking is an essential aspect of nursing.

Following are the reasons:

Further critical thinking is essential to nursing because nurses can establish authority in a stressful situation, such as issuing orders or administering care when needed.

This can be difficult because it may require balancing medical expertise with empathy and compassion towards patients’ feelings, leading them to question your judgment at some point in time.

Another reason this skill set is crucial involves making decisions that will have life-changing effects on a patient’s health and well-being.

These are often irreversible choices that only you know how much weight they carry within the context of each situation, so you need to make sure all factors are carefully considered before deciding what action must be taken next without hesitation.

Skills that Critical Thinkers Need

When it comes to critical thinking, some skills are more important than others. Using a framework known as the Nursing Process, some of these skills are applied to patient care. The most important skills are:

Take Charge of Your Nursing Career

FRESH RN - VIP Membership

Your first year as a nurse is daunting. You need someone in your corner telling you what your managers really need from you, helping you learn to interact with your preceptor, and really just manage your life. Find all that an more with the FreshRN VIP - Membership .

Interpretation: Understanding and explaining a specific event or piece of information.

Analysis: Studying data based on subjective and objective information to determine the best course of action.

Evaluation: Here, you assess the information you received. Is the information accurate, reliable, and credible? The ability to determine if outcomes have been fully achieved requires this skill as well.

The nurse can then use clinical reasoning to determine what the problem is based on those three skills. 

The decisions need to be based on sound reasoning:

Provide a clear, concise explanation of your conclusions. Nurses should provide a rationale for their answers.

Self-regulation – You need to be aware of your thought processes. As a result, you must reflect on the process that led to your conclusion. In this process, you should self-correct as necessary. Keep an eye out for bias and incorrect assumptions.

Critical Thinking Pitfalls

It can fall by the wayside when it’s not seen as necessary or when there are more pressing issues.

Sometimes nurses can’t differentiate between a less acute clinical problem and one that needs immediate attention. When a large amount of complex data must be processed in a time-critical manner, errors can also occur.


Nurses cannot overstate the importance of critical thinking. The clinical presentations of patients are diverse. To provide safe, high-quality care, nurses must make rational clinical decisions and solve problems. Nurses need critical thinking skills to handle increasingly complex cases.

Download Nurse Bingo Today!

nurse gift tags

Liven up any shift with a fun game of bingo. See who can fill a row first! Fill a whole card and lose grip with reality.

Your privacy is protected. We will never spam you.

About The Author

Brittney wilson, bsn, rn, leave a comment cancel reply.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed .

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. More info

Skip to Content (Press Enter)

Why Critical Thinking Skills in Nursing Matter (And What You Can Do to Develop Them)

By Hannah Meinke on 07/05/2021

Critical Thinking in Nursing

The nursing profession tends to attract those who have natural nurturing abilities, a desire to help others, and a knack for science or anatomy. But there is another important skill that successful nurses share, and it's often overlooked: the ability to think critically.

Identifying a problem, determining the best solution and choosing the most effective method to solve the program are all parts of the critical thinking process. After executing the plan, critical thinkers reflect on the situation to figure out if it was effective and if it could have been done better. As you can see, critical thinking is a transferable skill that can be leveraged in several facets of your life.

But why is it so important for nurses to use? We spoke with several experts to learn why critical thinking skills in nursing are so crucial to the field, the patients and the success of a nurse. Keep reading to learn why and to see how you can improve this skill.

Why are critical thinking skills in nursing important?

You learn all sorts of practical skills in nursing school, like flawlessly dressing a wound, taking vitals like a pro or starting an IV without flinching. But without the ability to think clearly and make rational decisions, those skills alone won’t get you very far—you need to think critically as well.

“Nurses are faced with decision-making situations in patient care, and each decision they make impacts patient outcomes. Nursing critical thinking skills drive the decision-making process and impact the quality of care provided,” says Georgia Vest, DNP, RN and senior dean of nursing at the Rasmussen University School of Nursing.

For example, nurses often have to make triage decisions in the emergency room. With an overflow of patients and limited staff, they must evaluate which patients should be treated first. While they rely on their training to measure vital signs and level of consciousness, they must use critical thinking to analyze the consequences of delaying treatment in each case.

No matter which department they work in, nurses use critical thinking in their everyday routines. When you’re faced with decisions that could ultimately mean life or death, the ability to analyze a situation and come to a solution separates the good nurses from the great ones.

How are critical thinking skills acquired in nursing school?

Nursing school offers a multitude of material to master and upholds high expectations for your performance. But in order to learn in a way that will actually equip you to become an excellent nurse, you have to go beyond just memorizing terms. You need to apply an analytical mindset to understanding course material.

One way for students to begin implementing critical thinking is by applying the nursing process to their line of thought, according to Vest. The process includes five steps: assessment, diagnosis, outcomes/planning, implementation and evaluation.

“One of the fundamental principles for developing critical thinking is the nursing process,” Vest says. “It needs to be a lived experience in the learning environment.”

Nursing students often find that there are multiple correct solutions to a problem. The key to nursing is to select the “the most correct” solution—one that will be the most efficient and best fit for that particular situation. Using the nursing process, students can narrow down their options to select the best one.

When answering questions in class or on exams, challenge yourself to go beyond simply selecting an answer. Start to think about why that answer is correct and what the possible consequences might be. Simply memorizing the material won’t translate well into a real-life nursing setting.

How can you develop your critical thinking skills as a nurse?

As you know, learning doesn’t stop with graduation from nursing school. Good nurses continue to soak up knowledge and continually improve throughout their careers. Likewise, they can continue to build their critical thinking skills in the workplace with each shift.

“To improve your critical thinking, pick the brains of the experienced nurses around you to help you get the mindset,” suggests Eileen Sollars, RN ADN, AAS. Understanding how a seasoned nurse came to a conclusion will provide you with insights you may not have considered and help you develop your own approach.

The chain of command can also help nurses develop critical thinking skills in the workplace.

“Another aid in the development of critical thinking I cannot stress enough is the utilization of the chain of command,” Vest says. “In the chain of command, the nurse always reports up to the nurse manager and down to the patient care aide. Peers and fellow healthcare professionals are not in the chain of command. Clear understanding and proper utilization of the chain of command is essential in the workplace.”

How are critical thinking skills applied in nursing?

“Nurses use critical thinking in every single shift,” Sollars says. “Critical thinking in nursing is a paramount skill necessary in the care of your patients. Nowadays there is more emphasis on machines and technical aspects of nursing, but critical thinking plays an important role. You need it to understand and anticipate changes in your patient's condition.”

As a nurse, you will inevitably encounter a situation in which there are multiple solutions or treatments, and you'll be tasked with determining the solution that will provide the best possible outcome for your patient. You must be able to quickly and confidently assess situations and make the best care decision in each unique scenario. It is in situations like these that your critical thinking skills will direct your decision-making.

Do critical thinking skills matter more for nursing leadership and management positions?

While critical thinking skills are essential at every level of nursing, leadership and management positions require a new level of this ability.

When it comes to managing other nurses, working with hospital administration, and dealing with budgets, schedules or policies, critical thinking can make the difference between a smooth-running or struggling department. At the leadership level, nurses need to see the big picture and understand how each part works together.

A nurse manager , for example, might have to deal with being short-staffed. This could require coaching nurses on how to prioritize their workload, organize their tasks and rely on strategies to keep from burning out. A lead nurse with strong critical thinking skills knows how to fully understand the problem and all its implications.

Their solutions will take into account all their resources and possible roadblocks.

They’ll weigh the pros and cons of each solution and choose those with the greatest potential.

Finally, they will look back on the issue and evaluate what worked and what didn’t. With critical thinking skills like this, a lead nurse can affect their entire staff, patient population and department for the better.

Beyond thinking

You’re now well aware of the importance of critical thinking skills in nursing. Even if you already use critical thinking skills every day, you can still work toward strengthening that skill. The more you practice it, the better you will become and the more naturally it will come to you.

If you’re interested in critical thinking because you’d like to move up in your current nursing job, consider how a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) could help you develop the necessary leadership skills. Learn more about earning your BSN in our article “ How an RN to BSN Program Will Differ from Your ADN Experience .”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in July 2012. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2021.

Request More Information

Talk with an admissions advisor today. Fill out the form to receive information about:

There are some errors in the form. Please correct the errors and submit again.

Please enter your first name.

Please enter your last name.

There is an error in email. Make sure your answer has:

There is an error in phone number. Make sure your answer has:

There is an error in ZIP code. Make sure your answer has only 5 digits.

Please choose a School of study.

Please choose a program.

Please choose a degree.

The program you have selected is not available in your ZIP code. Please select another program or contact an Admissions Advisor (877.530.9600) for help.

The program you have selected requires a nursing license. Please select another program or contact an Admissions Advisor (877.530.9600) for help.

Rasmussen University is not enrolling students in your state at this time.

By selecting "Submit," I authorize Rasmussen University to contact me by email, phone or text message at the number provided. There is no obligation to enroll. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

About the author

Hannah Meinke

hannah meinke headshot

Posted in General Nursing

Related Content

How to Become an Aesthetic Nurse: A New Look at This Nursing Niche

Kirsten Slyter | 11.14.2022

illustration of a nurse in scrubs imaging herself in an airport with luggage representing pros and cons of being a travel nurse

Kalie Debelak | 11.07.2022

illustration of a nurse working with a patient with an iv representing vascular access nursing

Jordan Jantz | 10.31.2022

illustration of a nurse with tatoos on her arms with her finger on her chin like she's thinking can nurses have too

Patrick Flavin | 10.24.2022

This piece of ad content was created by Rasmussen University to support its educational programs. Rasmussen University may not prepare students for all positions featured within this content. Please visit www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of programs offered. External links provided on rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen University does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced. Rasmussen University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, an institutional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Value of Critical Thinking in Nursing

portrait of Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN

Gayle Morris

Contributing Writer

Learn about our editorial process .

Updated August 29, 2022

Learn what you can do to improve your critical thinking skills as a nurse.

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Critical thinking for nurses.

Some experts describe a person's ability to question belief systems, test previously held assumptions, and recognize ambiguity as evidence of critical thinking. Others identify specific skills that demonstrate critical thinking, such as the ability to identify problems and biases, infer and draw conclusions, and determine the relevance of information to a situation.

Nicholas McGowan, BSN, RN, CCRN, has been a critical care nurse for 10 years in neurological trauma nursing and cardiovascular and surgical intensive care. He defines critical thinking as "necessary for problem-solving and decision-making by healthcare providers. It is a process where people use a logical process to gather information and take purposeful action based on their evaluation."

"This cognitive process is vital for excellent patient outcomes because it requires that nurses make clinical decisions utilizing a variety of different lenses, such as fairness, ethics, and evidence-based practice," he says.

How Do Nurses Use Critical Thinking?

Successful nurses think beyond their assigned tasks to deliver excellent care for their patients. For example, a nurse might be tasked with changing a wound dressing, delivering medications, and monitoring vital signs during a shift. However, it requires critical thinking skills to understand how a difference in the wound may affect blood pressure and temperature and when those changes may require immediate medical intervention.

Nurses are responsible for the care of many patients during their shifts. Strong critical thinking skills are crucial when juggling various tasks so patient safety and care are not compromised.

Jenna Liphart Rhoads, Ph.D., RN, is a nurse educator with a clinical background in surgical-trauma adult critical care, where critical thinking and action were essential to the safety of her patients. She talks about examples of critical thinking in a healthcare environment, saying:

"Nurses must also critically think to determine which patient to see first, which medications to pass first, and the order in which to organize their day caring for patients. Patient conditions and environments are continually in flux, therefore nurses must constantly be evaluating and re-evaluating information they gather (assess) to keep their patients safe."

The COVID-19 pandemic created hospital care situations where critical thinking was essential. It was expected of the nurses on the general floor and in intensive care units. Crystal Slaughter is an advanced practice nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU) and a nurse educator. She observed critical thinking throughout the pandemic as she watched intensive care nurses test the boundaries of previously held beliefs and master providing excellent care while preserving resources.

"Nurses are at the patient's bedside and are often the first ones to detect issues. Then, the nurse needs to gather the appropriate subjective and objective data from the patient in order to frame a concise problem statement or question for the physician or advanced practice provider," she explains.

Featured Online MSN Programs

Top 5 ways nurses can improve critical thinking skills.

We asked our experts for the top five strategies nurses can use to purposefully improve their critical thinking skills.

1. Case-Based Approach

Slaughter is a fan of the case-based approach to learning critical thinking skills.

In much the same way a detective would approach a mystery, she mentors her students to ask questions about the situation that help determine the information they have and the information they need. "What is going on? What information am I missing? Can I get that information? What does that information mean for the patient? How quickly do I need to act?"

Consider forming a group and working with a mentor who can guide you through case studies. This provides you with a learner-centered environment in which you can analyze data to reach conclusions and develop communication, analytical, and collaborative skills with your colleagues.

2. Practice Self-Reflection

Rhoads is an advocate for self-reflection. "Nurses should reflect upon what went well or did not go well in their workday, and identify areas of improvement or situations in which they should have reached out for help." Self-reflection is a form of personal analysis to observe and evaluate situations and how you responded.

This gives you the opportunity to discover mistakes you may have made and establish new behavior patterns that may help you make better decisions. You likely already do this. For example, after a disagreement or contentious meeting, you may go over the conversation in your head and think about ways you could have responded.

It's important to go through the decisions you made during your day and determine if you should have gotten more information before acting or if you could have asked better questions.

During self-reflection, you may try thinking about the problem in reverse. This may not give you an immediate answer but often will help you see the situation with fresh eyes and a new perspective. How would the outcome of the day be different if you planned the dressing change in reverse with the assumption you would find a wound infection? How does this information change your plan for the next dressing change?

3. Develop a Questioning Mind

McGowan has learned that "critical thinking is a self-driven process. It isn't something that can simply be taught. Rather, it is something that you practice and cultivate with experience. To develop critical thinking skills, you have to be curious and inquisitive."

In other words, to get critical thinking skills, you must undergo a purposeful process of learning strategies and using them consistently so they become a habit. One of those strategies is developing a questioning mind . Meaningful questions lead to useful answers and are at the core of critical thinking .

However, learning to ask insightful questions is a skill you must develop. Faced with staff and nursing shortages , declining patient conditions, and a rising number of tasks to be completed, it may be difficult to do more than complete the task in front of you. Yet, questions drive active learning and train your brain to see the world differently and take nothing for granted.

It is easier to practice questioning in a nonstressful, quiet environment until it becomes a habit. Then, in the chaos of the moment when your patient's care depends on your ability to ask the right question, you can be ready to rise to the occasion.

4. Practice Self-Awareness in the Moment

Critical thinking in nursing requires self-awareness and being present in the moment. During a hectic shift, it is easy to lose focus as you're struggling to finish every task needed for your patients. Passing medication, changing dressings, and hanging intravenous lines all while trying to assess your patient's mental and emotional status can affect your focus and how you manage stress as nurse .

Staying present helps you to be proactive in your thinking and anticipate what might happen, such as bringing extra lubricant for a catheterization or extra gloves for a dressing change.

By staying present, you are also better able to practice active listening. This raises your assessment skills and gives you more information to base your interventions and decisions.

5. Use a Process

As you are developing critical thinking skills, it can be helpful to use a process. For example:

These are the fundamental steps of the nursing process (assess, diagnose, plan, implement, evaluate). The last step will help you overcome one of the common problems of critical thinking in nursing — personal bias.

Common Critical Thinking Pitfalls in Nursing

Your brain uses a set of processes to make inferences about what's happening around you. In some cases, your unreliable biases can lead you down the wrong path. McGowan places personal biases on the top of his list of common pitfalls to critical thinking in nursing.

"We all form biases based on our own experiences. However, nurses have to learn to separate their own biases from each patient encounter to avoid making false assumptions that may interfere with their care," he says. Successful critical thinkers accept they have personal biases and learn to look out for them. Awareness of your biases is the first step to understanding if your personal bias is contributing to the wrong decision.

New nurses may be overwhelmed by the transition from academics to clinical practice, leading to a task-oriented mindset and a common new nurse mistake ; this conflicts with critical thinking skills.

"Consider a patient whose blood pressure is low but who also needs to take a blood pressure medication at a scheduled time. A task-oriented nurse may provide the medication without regard for the patient's blood pressure because medication administration is a task that must be completed," Slaughter says. "A nurse employing critical thinking skills would address the low blood pressure, review the patient's blood pressure history and trends, and potentially call the physician to discuss whether medication should be withheld."

Fear and pride may also stand in the way of developing critical thinking skills. Your belief system and worldview provide comfort and guidance, but this can impede your judgement when you're faced with an individual whose belief system or cultural practices are not the same as yours. Fear or pride may prevent you from pursuing a line of questioning that would benefit the patient. Nurses with strong critical thinking skills exhibit cultural competence skills as a nurse and the following:

An Essential Skill for All Nurses

Critical thinking in nursing protects patient health and contributes to professional development and career advancement. Administrative and clinical nursing leaders are required to have strong critical thinking skills to be successful in their positions.

By using the strategies in this guide during your daily life and in your nursing role, you can intentionally improve your critical thinking abilities and be rewarded with better patient outcomes and potential career advancement.

Meet Our Contributors

Portrait of Crystal Slaughter, DNP, APRN, ACNS-BC, CNE

Crystal Slaughter, DNP, APRN, ACNS-BC, CNE

Crystal Slaughter is a core faculty member in Walden University's RN-to-BSN program. She has worked as an advanced practice registered nurse with an intensivist/pulmonary service to provide care to hospitalized ICU patients and in inpatient palliative care. Slaughter's clinical interests lie in nursing education and evidence-based practice initiatives to promote improving patient care.

Portrait of Jenna Liphart Rhoads, Ph.D., RN

Jenna Liphart Rhoads, Ph.D., RN

Jenna Liphart Rhoads is a nurse educator and freelance author and editor. She earned a BSN from Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing and an MS in nursing education from Northern Illinois University. Rhoads earned a Ph.D. in education with a concentration in nursing education from Capella University where she researched the moderation effects of emotional intelligence on the relationship of stress and GPA in military veteran nursing students. Her clinical background includes surgical-trauma adult critical care, interventional radiology procedures, and conscious sedation in adult and pediatric populations.

Portrait of Nicholas McGowan, BSN, RN, CCRN

Nicholas McGowan, BSN, RN, CCRN

Nicholas McGowan is a critical care nurse with 10 years of experience in cardiovascular, surgical intensive care, and neurological trauma nursing. McGowan also has a background in education, leadership, and public speaking. He is an online learner who builds on his foundation of critical care nursing, which he uses directly at the bedside where he still practices. In addition, McGowan hosts an online course at Critical Care Academy where he helps nurses achieve critical care (CCRN) certification.

Featured Image: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.

Popular Nursing Resources

Resources and articles written by professionals and other nurses like you.

Post University Blog

The nursing skills that will launch your career.

Sep 22, 2021 | Nursing , Program Insights

nurse learning skills

Why is Critical Thinking Important in Nursing?

Nurses play a critical role in patient care. When someone is sick, they count on nurses to administer their care, track their health, and communicate with their doctor to help them get better. Nurses who excel in critical thinking can substantially better perform these tasks, setting themselves up for career success.

Those who want to excel in their careers, therefore, will pay close attention to the importance of their critical thinking skills. A better ability to evaluate situations in front of you, make decisions based on the information presented, and make the right decisions for patient care can all help you become a better nurse. You will find yourself able to improve the care you administer to your patients.

Additionally, critical thinking skills can help nurses who want to advance their careers. If you want to rise to a leadership position, you must demonstrate that you can think clearly about people’s individual strengths, organize the nursing floor, and provide guidance to others. You must also be able to think about areas outside the nursing scope, such as staffing and budget issues, to work effectively as a nursing leader.

We will explore what you need to know about the value of cultivating critical thinking skills as a nurse and what these skills might look like in practice so that you can continue to build your career.  

What is Critical Thinking in Nursing?

Critical thinking skills in nursing will combine several areas of expertise to help you become a fantastic nurse. It will call upon your intellectual skills and your competencies in nursing. You need to have a firm handle on the medical scope of nursing practice so that knowing how to help patients becomes second nature.

Critical thinking also calls for experience. For nurses, experience in the field can have a tremendous role in helping them fine-tune their knowledge and skills.

Finally, building your skills in this area also requires nurses to focus on practicing putting their skills of problem-solving and decision-making together with their intellect so that they can better evaluate their problems and find the solutions and answers that will improve their overall nursing practice.  

Why Are Critical Thinking Skills Important?

Nurses who want to provide their patients with better care will quickly discover that critical thinking skills will help them substantially. By applying the ability to think through problems and evaluate the information in front of them, nurses will quickly become more effective at their jobs. They will be able to treat the patient in front of them, providing more personalized care based on the unique individual. For example, knowing that a particular patient tends to underrate their pain levels might help them better determine when it is time to increase that patient’s pain management rather than waiting for the patient to indicate that their pain had reached a particular rating on a scale.

Critical thinking skills can also help nurses gather important information they need about their patients. They will improve their communication skills, as they will have more experience evaluating what their patient says, sorting through it, and then determining what data points play a critical role in the treatment of the patient and which ones are less central to the patient’s pain or illness.  

Examples of Critical Thinking Skills

When nurses take the time to nurture their critical thinking skills, they will find it helps them with a variety of their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. They will see how their patients might differ from the typical textbook cases they covered in nursing school. For example, if a patient has been prescribed blood pressure medication but the patient’s blood pressure now seems to be low, the nurse will know to further evaluate the patient and discuss the situation with the doctor rather than just giving them their prescribed medication at the appropriate time.

Nurses with quality critical thinking skills will also find it easier to take a holistic look at the patient’s history and their current physical state. They will be better equipped to correctly surmise when something seems out of the ordinary for a particular patient and further evaluation or a doctor is needed. For example, someone whose temperature runs lower than the average 98.6 might show signs of a fever with a lower temperature. For patients with certain diseases or going through certain types of treatment, identifying potential fevers early plays an important role in their treatment, and thus, this insight can greatly improve the patient’s wellbeing.

Learning Critical Thinking Skills in Nursing School

Quality nursing programs, like the ones offered through Post University at the American Sentinel College of Nursing and Health Sciences, can go a long way in helping students nurture critical thinking skills. These programs prepare students to be ready to face the challenges and quick-thinking situations they will encounter as practicing nurses.

These programs encourage nurses to think carefully about the problems they face. Students are encouraged to build their analysis skills by sorting through information and determining what offers the most significance in a given situation. They can then use this information to see the best path forward for a particular problem.

Nurses should also receive encouragement and practice in looking at problems from a variety of angles. When faced with new situations, cultural gaps, and misunderstandings, or other situations that might make it more challenging to make the best nursing decisions, these medical professionals should have practice evaluating situations from different perspectives. Schools can help them practice these skills by providing them with unexpected scenarios to walk through these types of situations.

Finally, nursing programs will need to provide nurses with a quality education and ample opportunities to put newly acquired skills to the test. When nurses have a solid educational foundation and opportunities to use their skills in real-life scenarios, competencies become second nature. They find they intuitively know what to do in different emergency situations, helping them make better nursing decisions and resulting in a nurse that is more equipped to apply critical thinking skills when the need arises.  

Nursing Programs That Help Expand Critical Thinking

Those who want to build critical thinking skills will discover there are a variety of nursing programs available that can help them build their credentials, nursing competencies, and critical thinking skills. Post University at the American Sentinel College of Nursing and Health Sciences offers a few tracks that nurses can pursue to become stronger nurses, including programs for:

This program is designed to help nurses who received an associate degree in nursing and want to build their skills and understanding with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. This program helps students improve their ability to complete health assessments, understand nursing research, improve health care delivery, and build a nursing practice. As students build skills and learn to analyze the data in front of them, they quickly find that they can build their nursing critical thinking skills.

An online Master of Science in Nursing program allows nurses to keep working while they build their skills. You have the chance to learn more about leadership, nursing skills, case management, infection prevention and control, and more to help nurses improve patient outcomes. Students also get to select a specialization, boosting their credentials and experience within the specific field where they will work.

Improving Critical Thinking Skills as a Nurse

Nurses that want to improve their critical thinking skills can take several concrete steps to improve their abilities, including:

Are You Ready to Build Your Critical Thinking Skills?

If you are ready to nurture your critical thinking skills and take your career to the next level, then it is time to consider the outstanding nursing programs offered at the American Sentinel College of Nursing and Health Sciences. Our nursing programs prepare nurses to excel in the field, offering classes that focus on building not only nursing skills but also analysis and critical thinking skills. Our graduates finish their programs knowing they can provide their patients with the best possible care.

With different courses designed to help those who want to earn their associate degree, turn an RN into a BSN, pursue a BSN-to-MSN program, or earn a DNP, we offer coursework to help nurses of all levels excel.  Come and learn more about what these programs  can do for you and your career right here.

Related Posts

Not everyone is cut out to be a doula. Compassion is essential. But if you…

If you're aiming to launch a successful nursing career, you need to find a job…

Earning a DNP or PhD offers a rewarding career in nursing, but which is right…

Find Your Program

Thank you for inquiring. You must be a licensed RN to qualify for entrance into this program. If you are a Registered Nurse outside of the U.S, please give us a call at 866.922.5690.

A Nurse at a Desk that is Critical Thinking

By Brook Jillings, Contributor

Critical Thinking in Nursing: Why It's Important and How to Improve

Critical thinking in nursing is a learned skill that increases the quality of care given to patients and improves outcomes. It helps nurses fulfill their duties of advocating for patient safety, and helps everyone on the medical team function at their best. Find out why critical thinking is important and learn five ways to improve with examples of critical thinking in nursing.

To put your critical thinking skills to use, check out the travel nursing positions available with American Mobile.

Steps for Thinking Critically as a Nurse

To be an effective nurse, it's important to step back and see the bigger picture. Critical thinking in nursing helps you analyze your patient's condition and current treatments to predict outcomes and identify potential issues. Hahnah Williams, Esq., RN, says, "Nurses who think critically do a better job of communicating across disciplines to ensure that all providers are aware of the patient's status, needs, and responses to treatment."

Being a strong critical thinker can greatly impact the experiences of your patients and enhance patient safety. Williams gives an example of this: "A critically thinking nurse will hold a patient's blood pressure medicines and contact the physician when he or she notes that the patient's blood pressure is below an acceptable level."

In contrast, a lack of critical thinking skills could put a patient in this situation in jeopardy by allowing the blood pressure to continue falling.

Nurses who are critical thinkers can best advocate for their patients: analyzing and evaluating facts in order to make a sound, evidence-based judgment. They should then speak up when necessary, and not just blindly follow orders."Nurses are often at the front line of patient care and serve as quarterbacks for patients with multi-disciplinary needs," Williams states.

1. Be aware of personal bias and assumptions

Human beings tend to allow personal bias to affect their decisions, and critical thinking in nursing could be compromised. "Take a look at how you think," says Barb Lundy, author of Connections Count: Mastering the Human Side of Business . "Do hidden values or beliefs drive your behavior?" Some examples she gives of this include the belief that communicating with elderly patients is more difficult, or that parents will make unreasonable demands for their children's care.

Making assumptions can also be an issue. "Medical treatment relies on educated assumptions," Lundy explains. "Assumptions that send problem-solving off in the wrong direction come from not asking enough questions." She offers the following tips to keep nurses on the right path:

It's important to make sure any actions you take are evidence-based and not influenced by your personal feelings, or, as Lundy says, "Know where fact ends and opinion begins."

2. Learn from all available resources

Take time to read nursing journals and peer-reviewed research, and engage in meaningful dialogue with your colleagues. Critical thinking in nursing requires familiarity with a range of medical conditions and procedures. Continually brushing up on your knowledge will help you identify connections in your patients' care and know how to address any issues.

Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn, a nurse practitioner and professor at the Sacramento State University School of Nursing, says, "On a regular basis, I spend time with associates reviewing diagnoses and treatment and making certain I am utilizing the most discerning evidence and up-to-date treatments."

Mikal-Flynn claims these efforts strengthen the team and "directly adds to and enhances critical thinking abilities." Spending time communicating with your peers can give you different perspectives while strengthening the relationship between you and the attending physicians. Keeping up with the latest medical findings and nursing care models will also keep your knowledge current and your skills ahead of the curve.

3. Reflect on each day

At the end of each nursing shift, take some time to reflect on the day's events. There will always be situations you could have approached differently or better solutions to the problems you faced, so it's important to go through those things to see where you can improve. Mikal-Flynn recommends you take time to review "your clinical day, what went well, what would you change, what do you need to improve your professional behavior and become more sophisticated in your thinking process."

Going over your decisions and interactions lets you analyze them in a low-pressure setting with a critical eye. Finding things you could have done differently helps you make better decisions in the future when faced with similar scenarios. Lundy also suggests, "Have an evaluation tool that helps you assess your critical thinking growth and development."

4. Practice critical thinking daily

Critical thinking in nursing is a skill that can be learned and improved, so make sure you're enhancing your skills daily using the tools available to you. "Utilizing clinical debriefing is essential," says Mikal-Flynn. "It is a time to pull apart clinical decisions and add, subtract and enhance content."

You can also practice your critical thinking skills outside of the workplace. The Foundation for Critical Thinking offers nine suggestions to develop your critical thinking strategy that include daily, weekly and monthly goals for personal growth, along with tools and tips to create better self-awareness.

5. Maintain flexibility

Finally, a good critical thinker will maintain flexibility. Critical thinking in nursing requires the ability to adapt to changing situations and share information. "Plan ahead knowing your plans will need adjustment as things change," suggests Lundy. "Listen to alternative ideas and approaches and offer your innovative ideas for problem-solving."

Nursing is a fast-paced profession that requires a unique approach to each patient. With so many variables that affect each case, you have to be willing to consider different perspectives to serve your patients well.

Improve critical thinking skills to be a better nurse

Critical thinking in nursing is a valuable skill that can greatly improve the care you provide to your patients. If you take the time to follow these five tips to improve your critical thinking skills, your reward will be better outcomes for your patients and more confidence in your abilities as a nurse.

Thinking about traveling? American Mobile is recruiting talented and dedicated nurses for travel nursing assignments across the U.S.

APPLY TODAY to get connected with a recruiter.

Contact us! We're here to help.

* Indicates Required Fields

By clicking "SUBMIT" I agree to receive emails, automated text messages and phone calls (including calls that contain prerecorded content) from and on behalf of {{site_name}}, its parent, AMN Healthcare, and affiliates. I understand these messages will be to the email or phone number provided, and will be about employment opportunities, positions in which I’ve been placed, and my employment with AMN companies. See privacy policy or cookie policy for more details.

why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing

While maintaining a commitment to delivering stellar patient care, nurses face continuing challenges, which they will face head on in 2023.

woman sitting outside using laptop

why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing

By Alana Luna, contributor

7 Reasons Critical Thinking In Nursing Is Important

Being a nurse is a complicated job which is why nurses and critical thinking are so intricately linked.

As a nurse, you’re often responsible for making life-altering decisions, acting as an authority in stressful situations and helping patients and their loved ones through some of the most stressful and emotional moments they’ll ever experience.

It’s these reasons and more as to why critical thinking skills in nursing is important. Here are seven reasons the importance of critical thinking in nursing is worth exploring and perfecting.

Visit Onward Healthcare and find a travel nursing job that’s right for your educational, skill level and professional goals.

7 Reasons Why Nurses Need Critical Thinking Skills

1. nurses’ critical thinking heavily impacts patient care.

Shantay Carter is a nurse, mentor, public speaker and author who also runs a non-profit dedicated to empowering and educating women.

Carter believes strongly in the importance of critical thinking in nursing, saying, “Nurses must be able to think critically in order to anticipate patient needs.”

From ensuring patient safety to being able to detect changes in patient status, analytic skills turn average nurses into extraordinarily capable caretakers.

2. It's Vital to Recognizing Shifts in Patient Status

One of Carter’s points is so valuable it’s worth mentioning twice. These days, putting a patient under observation largely means hooking them up to expensive monitors and watching the readouts, but that ignores the largely human aspect of patient assessments.

Nurses are trained to use a standardized practice of care that covers assessment, diagnosis, outcomes and planning, implementation and evaluation.

By using critical thinking to dig deep and spot signs of deterioration, pain or complications early on, nurses can actually save lives.

3. It’s Integral to an Honest and Open Exchange of Ideas

Carter also speaks to the role critical thinking plays in team interaction, saying it’s important “to be able to effectively communicate with the NP or doctor.”

A patient’s care team often encompasses at least a handful of individuals, and those people have to convey information without mistakes or misunderstandings.

Fail to do so and someone’s well-being hangs in the balance. On some occasions, members of a medical team might disagree about a care plan.

The ensuing discussion requires those on opposite sides of the argument to identify their position, make a case and then either offer additional support or find logic in the other party’s rationale.

This is a classic example of the kind of critical thinking nurses employ each and every day.

4. It Allows You to Ensure Patient Safety

As a nurse, it’s your job to provide medical care, but you’re also there to protect the patient’s interests and safeguard them from harm.

Most of the time, this means being aware of medically relevant issues like drug sensitivities or personal preferences such as religious affiliation (which can impact care choices and a patient’s mental status), but in modern times, nurses are being charged with riskier assignments such as protecting patients during an active shooting.

In high-pressure situations, there’s not always a clearly demarcated line that helps us distinguish between right and wrong, but critical thinking offers a way to gather and interpret data so we can make a choice we can live with.

5. It Helps Nurses Find Quick Fixes

There is no such thing as a perfectly smooth nursing shift. Nurses learn to expect the unexpected, but employing critical thinking in nursing can help turn major issues into minor blips, an approach Carter also endorses.

Speaking on the benefits of critical thinking, Carter says, “It allows you to problem solve and troubleshoot in certain situations.”

When standard protocols don’t work and routine approaches to patient situations fall short, critical thinking in nursing may provide a clear, logical path to the precise answers and creative solutions nurses need to find a resolution.

6. Critical Thinking can Lead to Innovative Improvements

If we all follow the same approaches we learn in books, nothing will ever change. That can be a problem, especially when patient needs are always evolving and healthcare today isn’t the same as it was last week, let alone a decade ago.

Creating new, cutting-edge ways to improve departmental processes could help everyone from management to patients’ support systems.

Anita Dorr spent 24 years as an operating room nurse at Meyer Hospital before founding the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA). She’s also known as the inventor of the crash cart, a mobile cabinet filled with items essential to patient resuscitation.

Sisters Teri Barton-Salinas and Gail Barton-Hay, both nurses, invented ColorSafe IV Lines in 2003 to help reduce patient injuries related to medication mistakes. Both inventions relied on critical thinking.

7. It Plays a Role in Rational Decision Making

The importance of critical thinking in nursing extends to the decision-making process. Even though health care is considered a scientific discipline with set processes and mandates covering almost every step of patient care, there are still plenty of instances that require nurses to formulate new plans in mere seconds. This is where critical thinking comes in handy.

One study of emergency medicine students found a link between critical-thinking skills and decision-making abilities. Researchers looked at the need for quick diagnosis and effective communication in ERs, with a special focus on analysis, prioritization and organization.

Though the study dealt with ER-specific situations such as triage, the same principles apply to nurses who work in other disciplines.

Whether you’re looking at students or working nurses, critical thinking is one of the most important skills medical professionals learn to develop and maintain.

By leading with logic and evaluating data in real time, nurses stand to better themselves and provide better care to their patients.

* Indicates Required Fields

By clicking "SUBMIT" I agree to receive emails, automated text messages and phone calls (including calls that contain prerecorded content) from and on behalf of {{site_name}}, its parent, AMN Healthcare, and affiliates. I understand these messages will be to the email or phone number provided, and will be about employment opportunities, positions in which I’ve been placed, and my employment with AMN companies. See privacy policy or cookie policy for more details.

why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing

Considering nursing jobs? Start with the best cities for nurses. These 15 rank at the top for their amenities, opportunities, nursing salaries and quality of life.

ICU nurse wearing a face mask and holding an IV bag.

ICU (Intensive Care Unit) nurses are highly training Registered Nurses who work with patients with life-threatening illnesses or conditions. Find out what are the skills needed to be successful as an ICU nurse.

why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing

Considering a career as a NICU nurse? First of all congratulations, this is one of the most rewarding jobs but challenging. Here are things to consider.

why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing

Florence Nightingale has inspired travel nurses throughout the world. See why Florence Nightingale had such a strong impact on the field of nursing.

why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing

Check out these nurses’ organizations for career development. Professional nurse organizations offer opportunities for networking and career development.

why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing


18 simple tips to improve critical thinking in nursing, what is critical thinking in nursing, 4 reasons why critical thinking is so important in nursing, 1. critical thinking skills will help you anticipate and understand changes in your patient’s condition., 2. with strong critical thinking skills, you can make decisions about patient care that is most favorable for the patient and intended outcomes., 3. strong critical thinking skills in nursing can contribute to innovative improvements and professional development., 4. critical thinking skills in nursing contribute to rational decision-making, which improves patient outcomes., what are the 8 important attributes of excellent critical thinking in nursing, 1. the ability to interpret information:, 2. independent thought:, 3. impartiality:, 4. intuition:, 5. problem solving:, 6. flexibility:, 7. perseverance:, 8. integrity:, examples of poor critical thinking vs excellent critical thinking in nursing, 1. scenario: patient/caregiver interactions, poor critical thinking:, excellent critical thinking:, 2. scenario: improving patient care quality, 3. scenario: interdisciplinary collaboration, 4. scenario: precepting nursing students and other nurses, how to improve critical thinking in nursing, 1. demonstrate open-mindedness., 2. practice self-awareness., 3. avoid judgment., 4. eliminate personal biases., 5. do not be afraid to ask questions., 6. find an experienced mentor., 7. join professional nursing organizations., 8. establish a routine of self-reflection., 9. utilize the chain of command., 10. determine the significance of data and decide if it is sufficient for decision-making., 11. volunteer for leadership positions or opportunities., 12. use previous facts and experiences to help develop stronger critical thinking skills in nursing., 13. establish priorities., 14. trust your knowledge and be confident in your abilities., 15. be curious about everything., 16. practice fair-mindedness., 17. learn the value of intellectual humility., 18. never stop learning., 4 consequences of poor critical thinking in nursing, 1. the most significant risk associated with poor critical thinking in nursing is inadequate patient care., 2. failure to recognize changes in patient status:, 3. lack of effective critical thinking in nursing can impact the cost of healthcare., 4. lack of critical thinking skills in nursing can cause a breakdown in communication within the interdisciplinary team., useful resources to improve critical thinking in nursing, youtube videos, my final thoughts, frequently asked questions answered by our expert, 1. will lack of critical thinking impact my nursing career, 2. usually, how long does it take for a nurse to improve their critical thinking skills, 3. do all types of nurses require excellent critical thinking skills, 4. how can i assess my critical thinking skills in nursing.

• Ask relevant questions • Justify opinions • Address and evaluate multiple points of view • Explain assumptions and reasons related to your choice of patient care options

5. Can I Be a Nurse If I Cannot Think Critically?

why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing

View All Programs

Undergraduate programs.

Graduate Programs

Undergraduate Certificate Programs

Graduate Certificate Programs

On-Campus Programs

COVID-19 Testing Waivers

Online Orientation Sign Up

Technical Assistance

Online Library Access

Browse Online Programs

MyUTPB Portal

Admission Requirements

Contact Financial Aid

Critical Thinking in Nursing

Every nursing shift brings new patients, challenges, and choices. In a fast-paced environment where there’s no room for mistakes, nurses must be able to think critically and make the right decisions before moving on from one situation to another. “Critical thinking” is often touted as one of the most important skills a nurse can possess, but what exactly is critical thinking? Why is critical thinking important in nursing? Moreover, is it an innate skill, or can it be learned?

What Is Critical Thinking in Nursing?

Critical thinking is the process of “actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” It’s based on accuracy, sound evidence, fairness, and other universally accepted intellectual values. Put simply, it’s the ability to be objective. Rather than allow emotions or opinions to guide their beliefs and actions, critical thinkers are driven by facts.

According to Edward M. Glaser , critical thinking contains three components:

As a nurse, your overall goal is to improve patient outcomes. Critical thinking is important in nursing because if all healthcare providers can think critically and utilize evidence-based decision-making, there’s a better chance of improving patient outcomes. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists critical thinking as one of the most important qualities a nurse can have, alongside qualities like communication and organizational skills and emotional stability.

Thinking Critically Under Stress

The fight-or-flight response is a physiological reaction that occurs when there is a perceived threat to survival. When our brain registers this threat, our bodies are flooded with stress hormones, such as adrenaline and norepinephrine. Heart rates increase, pupils dilate, and muscles tense up. The fight-or-flight response may have helped our distant ancestors take down mammoths, but it’s far less helpful when rushing to make an important decision regarding a patient’s care plan. Worse still is when a patient is in a life-or-death situation and their survival depends on poise under pressure.

If your goal is to work in a hospital, especially in an intensive care unit (ICU), you must be able to think critically in all manner of situations. By cultivating your critical thinking skills, you can respond appropriately even when your heart is pounding and your thoughts are racing.

Cultivating Critical Thinking Skills

In order to think critically, it’s not enough to be able to recite medical information verbatim. Critical thinkers are always logical and unbiased in their assessments, challenging the accuracy of information and beliefs when they have cause to doubt them. Although some are naturally inquisitive, all nurses can develop their innate curiosity, medical knowledge, and ability to think on their feet.

Become a Lifelong Learner

Looking at the three components of critical thinking, your first step in developing your skill set is to develop a wise, problem-solving attitude. Nurses are no longer the untrained caregivers of the past. Today, nurses play a vital role in patient-centered care, often assisting doctors by contributing to care plans, analyzing diagnostic tests, administering medicine, and monitoring vital signs. As the duties of a nurse continue to evolve and expand, nurses can excel by remaining open-minded and becoming lifelong learners.

Build a Repository of Experience

The second component of critical thinking is the knowledge of methods of logical investigation. Essentially, your goal is to develop a repository of medical knowledge to draw upon when making decisions. Medical knowledge can be obtained from years of experience, guidance from colleagues, and academic programs like those offered by The University of Texas Permian Basin. As a registered nurse (RN), it’s likely that your academic and working experiences already shape your decision-making. If that’s the case, you’re already employing one of the tenets of critical thinking.

Allow Logic to Guide Your Behavior

The ability to not only understand medical knowledge but effectively apply it to your decision-making may be the most difficult component of critical thinking to adopt. Fortunately, you’re not alone. In addition to staying up-to-date on best practices, you can draw upon the experience of doctors, educators, and fellow nurses. No one knows more about critical thinking than the professionals who’ve spent years in your role. Over time, you’

ll be able to calmly and effectively apply your skills to help patients regardless of the medical, cultural, or linguistic challenges facing you.

Gain Critical Thinking Skills While Advancing Your Career

Critical thinking is absolutely a skill set that can be developed with the help of an online RN to BSN program . At UT Permian Basin, we can empower you with the critical thinking skills needed to excel in your current position and the leadership skills needed to advance your career.

With the exception of leadership clinical experiences, our program is asynchronous and 100% online, and there’s no travel required. Remain in your current nursing role while continuing your education on your own time and at your own pace. In as little as eight months, you can complete our online RN to BSN program. During those eight months, you’ll gain first-rate instruction accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

UT Permian Basin’s online RN to BSN program offers the education and experiences needed to prosper in a leadership role. The critical thinking, management, and transcultural nursing skills taught in our virtual classrooms will prove indispensable in your nursing career. By enrolling in our online RN to BSN program, you’ll not only be more capable of stepping into a leadership role but also better able to assist the patients under your care. 

Learn more about UT Permian Basin’s online RN to BSN program .




  1. Decision making and problem solving

    why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing

  2. Critical Thinking Definition, Skills, and Examples

    why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing

  3. (PDF) Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

    why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing

  4. Maxwell » Problem Solving and Decision Making

    why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing

  5. CRITICAL THINKING: A profound handbook to improve your memory and logical skills, level up your

    why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing

  6. How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills

    why are critical thinking problem solving & decision making skills essential in nursing


  1. critical thinking clinical judgement problem solving

  2. Critical Thinking/Time Management Skills!!Must haves for Single Moms Attending College

  3. Nursing Students’ Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Self Directive Learning Skills The Effect


  5. Think n Thought Consultants 30 seconds

  6. Struggling to make decisions? Learn how using muscle testing #helpful


  1. What Are the Six Steps of Problem Solving?

    The six steps of problem solving involve problem definition, problem analysis, developing possible solutions, selecting a solution, implementing the solution and evaluating the outcome. Problem solving models are used to address issues that...

  2. What Are Some Basic Nursing Skills?

    Some basic nursing skills include the ability to record a patient’s medical history, administer medication, set up patient care plans, observe and record a patient’s condition, and consult with doctors and other health professionals regardi...

  3. Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Skills

    Develop your ability to tackle complex problems in the workplace using known analytical problem solving techniques, design thinking, and effective research. Develop your ability to tackle complex problems in the workplace using known analyt...

  4. Critical Thinking: The Development of an Essential Skill for Nursing

    Critical thinking is applied by nurses in the process of solving problems of patients and decision-making process with creativity to enhance the effect.

  5. Why Critical Thinking Is Important in Nursing

    Critical thinking is essential for nurses because it helps them make decisions based on the available information and their past experiences and

  6. Why Critical Thinking Skills in Nursing Matter (And What You

    “Critical thinking in nursing is a paramount skill necessary in the care of your patients. Nowadays there is more emphasis on machines and

  7. The Value of Critical Thinking in Nursing

    He defines critical thinking as "necessary for problem-solving and decision-making by healthcare providers. It is a process where people use a logical

  8. The Nursing Skills that will Launch Your Career

    Nurses who want to provide their patients with better care will quickly discover that critical thinking skills will help them substantially. By

  9. Critical Thinking in Nursing: Why It's Important and How to Improve

    Critical thinking in nursing is a learned skill that increases the quality of care given to patients and improves outcomes. It helps nurses

  10. Critical thinking in Nursing: Decision-making and Problem-solving

    Many decisions in healthcare are arrived at by group or teams rather than by the individual, and this type of decision-making requires special skills. General

  11. 7 Reasons Critical Thinking in Nursing is Important

    By using critical thinking to dig deep and spot signs of deterioration, pain or complications early on, nurses can actually save lives. 3. It's

  12. The Importance of Critical Thinking in Nursing

    Nurse practitioners see patients of all ages with a broad spectrum of potential ailments. Critical thinking skills in nursing improve patient

  13. 18 Simple Tips to Improve Critical Thinking in Nursing

    Critical thinking in nursing promotes active thought and decision-making. When nurses demonstrate clinical thinking skills, they are able to promote improvement

  14. Critical Thinking in Nursing

    As a nurse, your overall goal is to improve patient outcomes. Critical thinking is important in nursing because if all healthcare providers can think critically