Part of being a great nurse is the ability to demonstrate professionalism. A successful nurse is someone who exhibits compassion, empathy, and commitment—and who dedicates their career to personal growth and professional development. This post defines professionalism in nursing, discusses how you can best demonstrate it, and explores ways you can expand and strengthen your core professional qualities.
What Is Professionalism in Nursing?
Professionalism in nursing means providing top-quality care to patients, while also upholding the values of accountability, respect, and integrity.1
As defined by the American Nurses Association, “Nursing is the protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, communities, and populations.” In essence, nursing professionalism is about demonstrating an unwavering commitment to the vocation and the willingness to continuously deliver the highest-quality care to patients.
When nurses demonstrate professionalism, patients receive better care, team communication is improved, there is increased accountability among all practitioners, and the overall clinical environment is more positive.2 All stakeholders benefit—including patients, other members of the healthcare team, and support staff.
6 Ways to Demonstrate Professionalism in Nursing
There are a number of ways that you can show you are dedicated to providing quality, safe, and evidence-based care. You should work to uphold the six standards of conduct outlined below in order to best demonstrate professionalism in nursing.3
1. Put patients first
It’s important not only to uphold the rights of patients—but also to treat them with kindness, respect, and compassion. You should of course view every patient as an individual and listen to their particular concerns and preferences. Be sure to act in the best interests of your patients at all times, and be prepared to serve as an advocate for them when their health needs diverge from their family’s expectations.
2. Communicate effectively
Nursing professionals should communicate clearly and effectively at all times. When speaking with patients and their caregivers, use terms they can easily understand. Also, be willing to take reasonable steps to meet an individual’s language and communication needs (e.g., bring in a translator). Communicating effectively also means keeping clear and accurate patient records and practicing good interprofessional teamwork and handoff skills.
3. Collaborate with and mentor others
Working as a nurse means acting as part of a team, so it’s important to have a collaborative attitude and value the contributions of others. You should be open to receiving advice and constructive criticism, and you should also feel comfortable offering your colleagues both praise and constructive feedback on their work. Sharing knowledge and insights with your peers creates a more educated and effective team. Offering to mentor a colleague or student can also deepen the bonds within a team and serve as a professional growth experience for all.
4. Maintain a positive attitude
To succeed as a nurse, it’s important to maintain a positive attitude. Patients look to you not only for excellent care, but also for emotional support. You will face many challenges on the job, and you won’t do everything perfectly—no one can. But don’t get weighed down by negative self-talk, as this can take a toll on your mental health and your ability to best help patients.
5. Uphold the standard of care
Of course, you must always deliver evidence-based care by keeping your knowledge and skills up to date. You can help prevent medical errors by tapping into a wide knowledge base and making sure that any care you deliver or advice you offer is informed by research. You can also expand your understanding of your specialty area by joining a nursing association or investing in advanced education.
6. Be accountable and honest
It’s important for nursing professionals to maintain their integrity by taking personal responsibility and holding themselves accountable for any mistakes. Not only should you stay actively engaged in the care process—you also need to recognize your own limitations and ask for help when you need it. When you make a mistake, offer solutions for correcting it. For example, if you realize you’ve made an error on a patient record, it’s important that you tell the necessary personnel and have it corrected.
How to Develop Professionalism in Nursing
For anyone, becoming an exemplary nurse involves both personal and professional development. To exhibit professionalism in nursing, focus on these skills:
- Conflict resolution. You can help two parties, such as a patient and physician, find a reasonable and peaceful solution to a disagreement.
- Critical thinking. You make decisions based on evidence and objective analysis. For example, you offer lifestyle advice to patients—such as changing their diet and exercising more frequently—based on scientific evidence and not personal opinion.
- Adaptability. You are able to alter your approach when the situation calls for it. For example, when a patient has an infectious disease, you implement different safety protocols.
- Leadership. You can motivate yourself or a group to work toward achieving a specific goal. For example, you stay current with the latest research on a patient health condition, and you share this information with team members.
- Ability to grow. Taking time to work on personal growth can help you better understand your goals, strengths, and weaknesses. One way to do this is by practicing self-discovery.
You can also enhance your qualifications and skills by pursuing nurse leadership and management roles. The role of the nurse leader or nurse manager requires you to be proficient with the skills described above, as well as with decision making, organization, delegation, and overcoming obstacles.
Depending on your background, you may need additional education to qualify for nurse leader and nurse manager positions. Requirements vary by employer and role, but you will need at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Graduate degree programs, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), provide coursework and practice experience specific to leadership and management.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates designed for working nurses. Our degrees are offered online, with optional on-campus immersions* and an annual interprofessional trip abroad. Role specialties include Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Nurse Educator,** and Nurse Executive. The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Complete coursework when and where you want—and earn your advanced nursing degree while keeping your work and life in balance.
*The FNP role specialty includes two required hands-on clinical intensives as part of the curriculum.
**The Nurse Educator role specialty is not available for the DNP program.
Regis College, “What Is Professionalism in Nursing?” https://online.regiscollege.edu/blog/what-is-professionalism-in-nursing/
Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, “Healthy Work Environments Best Practice Guidelines,” March 2007: https://rnao.ca/sites/rnao-ca/files/Professionalism_in_Nursing.pdf
- American Nurses Association, “Recognition of a Nursing Specialty,” Aug. 2017: https://www.nursingworld.org/~4989de/globalassets/practiceandpolicy/scope-of-practice/3sc-booklet-final-2017-08-17.pdf
- Nursco, “Professionalism in Nursing – 5 Tips for Nurses,” July 13, 2018: https://www.nursco.com/professionalism-nursing-5-tips-nurses/
- Nursing and Midwifery Council, “The Code,” Jan. 29, 2015: https://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/sitedocuments/nmc-publications/nmc-code.pdf