8 Qualities That Make Up Great Nurses

By Sue Heacock on Mon, Aug 05, 2013

great nurseI could hardly wait to write this article.  Why? Because I have always felt that – in general (disclaimer so I don't offend anyone) – you have to possess a certain type of personality to be a great nurse. The question is: Are there common denominators to the personality of nurses? I say, yes!

  1. Sense of humor.

    I have found this to be one of the definite nursing characteristics. We may, at times, have "darker" humor than others, but we have experienced things in our professional life that would not be complete without the little sarcastic comment or funny pun thrown into the mix. It's what keeps us going in the tough times!
  2. Professionalism.

    I have been in other professions and in the military. I have always found that we understand what nursing professionalism and ethics are and apply these qualities to their practice each day. It is comforting to work with professionals on a daily basis.
  3. Diligence.

    Nurses are some of the hardest-working and energetic people I know. Does anyone disagree? We work hard on the job for 8, 10, or 13 hours a day, have the energy to go to our home lives and families, and are up and running to do it again the next day!
  4. Compassion. 

    Nurses get it! Simple as that. We understand nursing relationships and when someone tells a sad story or has a chronic illness. Maybe we haven't lived through such circumstances, but we just understand and seem to know what to say and what to do to help and comfort.
  5. Sense of deeper understanding to life.

    We have seen some of the worst parts of life, dealt with patient death, and understand and appreciate the truly important aspects of life. We tend not to care about the toilet seat being up or about a dirty dish donning our sink. We understand what is important in life and focus on that.
  6. Sense of hope for what to others may seem hopeless.

    How many times have you heard a patient tell the worst story you have ever heard about a chronic illness, and seen a nurse immediately smile and offer the positives to that patient? I have seen it many times and it never ceases to amaze me. Nurses are great in spreading the positive vibes in the community. It is not something we were taught - just something we simply are!
  7. Nurses never say never.

    "Sure, I can pick up that 13-hour nursing shift on Sunday." "No problem taking care of an extra patient today." Just a couple of examples of the endless "never say never" spirit of nurses. This spirit makes us seem as if we can accomplish anything at anytime!
  8. Sense of pride in saying "I'm a nurse".

    Not to offend anyone out there, but I have known several lawyers in my life. I have never heard one of them admit in public what he/she does for a living… mmmmm. Anyway, nurses are always quick and proud to say "I'm a nurse" – loud and clear. And why not, great nurses? Look at our wonderful personalities and all we do for others each day!

If you think you have what it takes to be a great nurse, consider nursing as your calling and more than just a profession.


rpental 2 years ago
An excellent list of qualities that contribute to the making of a good nurse. However, there is a characteristic missing which is key to opening the doors to all others. A nurse, above and beyond all the qualities listed in the article, must also be a lifelong learner. For example, compassion may lend itself to the abilities claimed by the author to help and hold patients in their time of need, however, compassion without ongoing learning may become trapped in routine gestures and predictable responses. Yet, if nurses add lifelong learning to the excellent qualities listed, suddenly compassion is not simply a task to accomplish and then move on from but a skill that requires renewal and upgrading.

What is more I ask, is not the nurse who is truly compassionate also the one who is willing to continue to learn how to improve patient care and engage in new approaches? On going learning then is key to the healthy functioning of the qualities of nursing and one to be added to the list.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I agree with the first comment here. I am in school for legal and if anyone knows lawyers they have no problem speaking their mind. I am SURE they say I am an attorney..or lawyer,I know I WILL. I just don't think lawyers need to brag, that's all. Good article kudos to nurses but...

Anonymous 3 years ago
I am a Patient Advocate and have not worked in a hospital for over 8 years. I don't get "what hospital do you work in? I get, "what do you do as a nurse?" I diagree, I don't think anything said by Sue Heacock is sterotypical. I mourn the fact today's nurses are trying to distance themselves so far from our sisters and brothers of the past. We have ALL worked hard to get where we are. Nurses should all be proud of ourselves, past, present and future!

Anonymous 3 years ago

I feel like that article was written more than 10 years ago- I am proud to be a nurse but I sure enjoyed it a whole lot more years ago. Today people both men and women go into this profession as a second choice-because they know they will find a job--a job -not a career or a calling- and as far as all those other characteristics- well I have not witnessed them for quite some time-I have seen more of the older nurses eating the young and more bullying going on than I would like to admit-sorry - just my observations, assessment and opinion.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Nurses should be wary about "always" picking up another shift and never saying no.
Self care is crucial to avoiding burnout - a constant danger in the field.
There are many good lawyers. They have much in common with nurses. They advocate for the best outcome for their client.
Many nurses become lawyers. Unfortunately they run the risk of disrespect by nurses who see a narrow view of the nursing role.

Anonymous 3 years ago
I know this article is written as an opinion-type piece but it's a classic demonstration of stereotyping the nursing profession. "a nurse is a nurse is a nurse" is no longer true. With the vast number of jobs that nurses do these days, I think this article takes a narrow view of what a nurse is and does not acknowledge the diversity which makes us an awesome profession. I also know and respect a lot of lawyers who are proud to tell people they are lawyers just as I'm proud to call myself a nurse. But I yearn for the day when someone doesn't then follow up with, "what hospital do you work in?"