Critical thinking & decision making – Two crucial skills in nursing that can save lives

October 16, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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One of our students posing with the nursing staff in Chiang Mai Nurses work in a fast-paced environment where decisions need to be made quickly. While some of these decisions may be mundane and routine, many of them are critical decisions that could affect the fate of the patient. As a nurse it is absolutely crucial that when faced with a life or death situation you are able to make the right decision and make it quickly. A delayed decision can often be as bad as a wrong decision. Both are equally important. This means the whole process right from understanding the situation at hand to evaluating necessary options to making a decision and sticking by it should be made quickly without compromising on quality.


This does not come naturally to everybody but you can develop and hone your critical thinking and decision-making skills by inculcating a few habits.


Always be proactive 

Do not wait until after something has gone wrong or until somebody else tells you there is a problem. Learning to anticipate potential problems is an important skill that will often help pre-empt a crisis situation. Of course, because patients are already ill, you cannot always anticipate potential problems. There will always be unexpected reactions and unforeseen changes in their status. However, if you stay sharp at all times, you will know when something is about to go wrong. Many experienced nurses admit that being proactive has eventually helped them develop a sixth sense about their patients and while they may not be right all of the time, it has helped them save many lives during their career.


Keep asking questions

Egos often play a big role, whether with junior nurses or senior nurses. Remember that this is a service sector where the patient’s needs are of utmost priority. If you don’t know something, ask before it is too late. The best way to learn is to keep asking questions, whether to other nurses, doctors or even the patients. You will be surprised at how much useful information you will pick up.


Stay well-informed

Medical technology keeps improving and various techniques keep changing. It is necessary to be aware about all the latest developments in the medical field so that you can make a well-informed decision when necessary. If you aren’t aware about certain medicines or procedures, you could make a wrong decision in an emergency.


Know your team inside out

During an emergency, it is very important to know who to call for. Get to know all the staff as well as you can. You should know exactly which doctor to call based on the problem that your patient is having. You should know which nurses will be closest to you and will respond the fastest. You should also know which nurses are best under pressure and which of them would be best for the situation at hand.


Think before you act

Sure, you may only have a few seconds to make a decision in many cases. But do not let this fluster you. Take a deep breath, study all the facts and think clearly, however urgent the situation may be. This is where your critical thinking skills come into play. It is much better to take a few seconds more and make the right decision instead of making the wrong decision in a hurry.


Never take chances if you are not sure about something

You are dealing with the lives of people. This means that you cannot afford to take a chance if you are not sure about something. Taking chances will not always work in the medical field and you cannot gamble with a patient’s life. If you aren’t sure about something, don’t do it. Instead, reach out to somebody who is more likely to know what to do.

If you put these values into practice, you will realise that you can make decisions quickly without compromising on the quality of healthcare.