Demystifying Critical Thinking Skills


© 2009 By Kathy Quan RN BSN PHN All Rights Reserved

Critical thinking skills are an important aspect of nursing. The concept can be a nightmare for some nursing students who struggle to understand. It’s a popular topic for many a nursing thesis or publication which many times only serves to further confuse the students.

It’s not really that complex of a concept if one takes the time to break it down and analyze it. Here are a few descriptions which may help you to understand critical thinking skills:
  • Critical thinking is a set of skills which are used to process information, generate beliefs and then to make decisions.
  • Critical thinking is a mental process using reasoning and analysis to shape behavior and to make sound judgments and choices.
  • Using critical thinking skills, one can take control of the thinking process and situation to make the best choices.
  • Answering any open ended question requires critical thinking skills to analyze information and formulate a response.
  • Nurses use critical thinking skills everyday to assess, plan for, and provide quality patient care.
  • Critical thinking is an essential element of the nursing process as nurses assess patients and make nursing diagnoses, make decisions and set goals, and then implement a plan of care. Critical thinking is also required in the evaluation part of the nursing process to review data and information to determine if the plan is working or requires modification.

When a crisis occurs or an event that interrupts the normal routine which happens frequently, RNs have to utilize critical thinking skills quickly to assess the situation, weigh the choices and potential outcomes and come up with the best possible plan for optimal outcomes.

Consider the scenario of an unexpected code or a patient fall. From start to finish:
  • What information would you have to analyze?
  • What decisions would you have to make?
  • Who would you have to delegate to or bark orders at?
  • And what drives those decisions?
All of this requires critical thinking skills.

Registered nurses begin learning and using the nursing process in their first nursing classes and they learn to build on the process throughout their education. Critical thinking skills become a habit as they use them to guide behavior and make decisions based on information and experience.

The LP/VN education is much more focused on bedside nursing skills. Although LPN/LVNs learn to assess patients, they are not taught (or expected) to analyze or make decisions about patient care, therefore the critical thinking skills are less refined due to their level of education.

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©2009-present by Kathy Quan RN BSN PHN, all rights reserved. No portion of this document may be used in any format without written permission.
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