Skip to Main Content Skip to bottom Skip to Chat, Email, Text

A look at soft skills vs. hard skills for nurses

By University of Phoenix

At a glance

  • The profession of nursing has required skills and competencies to provide safe care.
  • Hard skills for nurses may include patient assessments, charting and information management, while some soft skills are compassion, communication skills and teamwork.
  • Further experience can be developed through a degree program as well as on-the-job experience and training. 
  • University of Phoenix helps registered nurses demonstrate many critical nursing skills such as leadership information management and coordinating self-care through the Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program. Visit to learn more! 

Demonstrating core nursing skills to provide quality patient care

Registered nurses use countless skills to perform their duties throughout the workday. They typically perform a comprehensive head-to-toe assessment comprising vital signs and any symptoms or signs of distress — and that’s just in the first 30 seconds of walking into a room.

However, nurses also demonstrate a variety of interpersonal skills to communicate with peers, doctors, patients and patients’ loved ones in the waiting room. They need both hard skills and soft skills to succeed in the nursing profession.

Hard and soft skills are essential to become a registered nurse. Learn the difference between these two types of nursing skills — and explore examples of both — if you are considering entering this field. By balancing hard skills and soft skills, you can train to become a well-rounded nurse who is an asset in any healthcare setting.

Explore degrees that expand your skills and prepare you to lead in nursing. 

Nurse hard skills vs. soft skills

Almost every professional uses a combination of hard skills and soft skills in their careers, and nurses are no exception. Hard skills are tangible abilities that are taught to people in specific roles. Soft skills, known as interpersonal skills, refer to how you interact with others and manage yourself during the day. 

It is essential for nurses to hone both their hard skills and soft skills to provide quality patient care. One of the best ways to understand the value of both is to look at examples of these skills that you will use each day. 

Examples of hard skills for nurses

If you follow a nurse around during the day, you will see several examples of hard skills. These are the day-to-day tasks to complete patient care. For example, when intaking a patient into a facility, the nurse performs a comprehensive physical assessment and medical and social history.

Nursing is a highly technical profession, which is why many courses and training opportunities focus on hard skills. Depending on the healthcare field you enter, the hard skills you use daily might range from administering medicine and treatments, operating medical equipment, aiding in diagnostic testing and more. If you can’t perform these functions, then you cannot successfully care for patients. 

However, nurses can take on a much larger role depending on their expertise. Some help deliver babies. Some help save lives in various ways in emergency rooms or assisting in surgeries. Because of the importance of their role, it’s important they hone their craft and perfect their skills.

Examples of soft skills for nurses

While hard skills allow nurses to complete their daily tasks, soft skills help them create better experiences for everyone they encounter throughout the day. Some soft skills in nursing are clear communication, a positive attitude, teamwork, problem-solving, leadership and empathy. 

For example, nurses may be tasked with charting and clinical documentation. This will take skills in being detail oriented. Also, nurses communicate when aiding in direct patient care. They are sometimes tasked with speaking to patients about how to manage their diagnoses. Depending on the seriousness of the diagnosis, being able to be self-aware and having an empathetic disposition when communicating can make all the difference to a patient and their overall healthcare experience.

Another example to consider: A nurse might give patients an injection (a hard skill) or medication but use compassion and communication skills to make it easier for them. If a patient is afraid of needles, the nurse can pick up on these emotions using emotional intelligence. They might distract the patient with a funny story or empathize with how much they hate needles too. The patient might feel better about the experience just because the nurse connected with them emotionally.

Throughout your nursing career, your soft skills should evolve. You will use active listening when you are still learning and then hone your leadership skills and conflict-resolution abilities as you advance in your career and step into a management role. 

read similar articles

5 reasons why nursing is still a good career

Do employers look for hard skills or soft skills in nursing candidates?

Employers likely look for a mixture of hard skills and soft skills when hiring for nursing positions. The first step in hiring is to check for hard skills. It doesn’t matter how much empathy nurses have if they are unable to do things such as find a vein to insert an intravenous drip correctly. A nurse without essential skills for the job is a danger to a healthcare facility. Such a nurse won’t be able to help in a crisis and could make life-threatening mistakes.

Every healthcare facility has its process for evaluating soft skills. A hiring manager might check for soft skills by talking with candidates or asks them to perform a sample evaluation on another nurse to understand their bedside manner. As mentioned, skills required for this role include critical thinking, communication, compassion, emotional stability and physical stamina, and being detail oriented and organized.

A nurse won’t get hired based on soft skills alone. However, soft skills can be helpful to demonstrate abilities when interviewing.

How to improve hard skills as a nurse

Hard skills are required in the nursing profession. Luckily, there are multiple ways to improve hard skills through education, experience and on-the-job training.

If you are already employed in the nursing field, you can further improve your hard skills on the job through experience as well as through relevant programs and industry certification courses. Talk to your manager about career development options and ways to grow your skill set within the facility. Experiencing general, day-to-day situations, facing problems, thinking on your feet and finding solutions are also going to help toward growing your skill set.

How to improve soft skills as a nurse

Soft skills are harder to teach and often come from experience, such as working with larger teams, collaborating or being put in situations that require customer service or critical thinking. There are programs that can teach these skills.

For example, at University of Phoenix (UOPX), soft skills taught in the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program include compassion in population health, professionalism in the nursing field and critical thinking. Among these skills you may also speak with your course instructor about soft skills should you feel you need extra guidance.

It’s also possible to improve your soft skills on your own, through experience or resources like books, videos and podcasts. Consider keeping a journal so you can identify your thoughts and feelings throughout the day. Practice taking a step back before reacting so you can handle situations appropriately. Try to place yourself in the shoes of patients, peers and others around you. It may take several months to improve your soft skills, but the investment is worth it. 

The best nurses use both hard skills and soft skills each day. They work to improve their technical know-how while developing empathy and clear communication. By investing in both skill sets, you can enjoy a long, successful nursing career.

read similar articles

RN vs. BSN: The difference between them and what it means for your career

Develop your nursing skills at University of Phoenix

UOPX offers online programs for licensed RNs who are seeking to learn further critical skills that can guide them in their careers and potentially into future roles. These programs are ideal for individuals who are in need of flexible courses that work with their busy life. Many students also appreciate the fixed tuition prices with no hidden fees. If a program like this appeals to you, learn more at University of Phoenix.

  • Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing — This program teaches and sharpens post-licensure nursing skills, covering health administration, business management for nursing professionals, coordinating safe care and quality improvement and case management. It also covers critical thinking, communication, leadership, holistic nursing and much more. For this program specifically, students are only required to physically attend class one day a week.
  • RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Competency-Based) — This program is designed for working professionals with their RN license and one year of professional experience. If you qualify, your experience can help you fast-track through the program and avoid taking courses that teach what you’ve already learned on the job.
  • Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Nurse Education — This program prepares registered nurses to become leaders in the field of nursing education and to function as a nurse educator in a variety of practice and educational settings. In this program, students gain the qualifications required to teach in schools, colleges and universities, as well as in hospitals.
  • Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Informatics — Learn how to analyze data to inform decision-making and patient outcomes. This program prepares you to function in nursing informatics leadership roles, specialize in the design and use of electronically stored data to influence quality in care delivery and provide evidence of meeting quality, compliance and regulatory standards and requirements.
  • Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Nurse Administration — This program prepares students to pursue a future as a hospital, health system or healthcare leader. Develop your knowledge with key courses covering topics like nursing theory, research and applied statistics for quality improvement, and the healthcare leader’s role during organizational change.
  • Master of Science in Nursing/Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner — This program prepares for a role as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) specializing in neuropsychiatric care and treatment. Learn skills such as neuropsychiatric disorder prevention, assessment, self-care management, psychotherapeutic intervention, pharmacological management, and addiction services.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice — This program is designed for working nurses who require a doctorate for advanced practice or nurses who desire their terminal degree. Students learn skills such as integrate scientific underpinnings to advance nursing practice and improve the healthcare environment following state Nurse Practice Acts and/or regulatory guidelines, translate scientific evidence and innovations to improve population health status and care outcomes, construct leadership strategies to improve health care outcomes and more.

NOTE: The PDF Viewer should be used only for mult- page PDFs or very large, content rich PDFs. So, for PDFs that contain mostly images and a small amount of text (like the one above), it's best to stick with your image component and link it or nearby text to the full PDF.


want to read more like this?

University of Phoenix logo


     About University of Phoenix

Rise like
a Phoenix

As pioneers in online higher education since 1989, University of Phoenix is an accredited online university for working adults. We are proud to offer quality educational pathways through flexible, career-focused online degrees, certificates and professional development courses that fit into your life and options to save you time and money. Our students are supported every step of the way, including career services for life.

Let us help you take the most direct path to your future career goals. We’re ready when you are.

Online degrees

More than 100 online programs aligned to 300+ careers.

Online courses and certificates

Explore professional development and earn credentials.

Ways to save

Learn ways you can save as you pursue your goals.

Let us help you jumpstart your goals. Connect with us.