Professionalism in Nursing: What is it, and Why is it Important?

A major part of being a nurse is the ability to demonstrate professionalism and remain professional at all times. Professionalism in this very demanding field involves a lot more than wearing the scrubs, speaking politely and being punctual as it encompasses a whole slew of values that are critical not only to the provision of patient care but also to better patient outcomes and nurses’ careers. This article explains what professionalism in nursing is, how to demonstrate it, and how to nurture it.

What is Professionalism in Nursing?

Professionalism in nursing encompasses everything it takes to provide the best patient care while also remaining accountable and respectful while upholding the values of integrity. It also includes the need to better oneself to provide the best care by improving the methods, judgement and standards that are important for the provision of this care.

Nursing professionalism also entails showing commitment to the field of nursing and the vocation behind it. When nurses are professional, teams communicate better which leads to better outcomes, patients receive better care, all practitioners become accountable and positivity increases in the field of nursing. Everyone, from patients to other stakeholders, benefits from nursing professionalism.

The Three Categories of Nursing Professionalism

According to the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery research, nursing professionalism can be divided into three broad categories. The first one is cognitive professionalism. Cognitive professionalism entails nurses having the drive to continuously learn and improve so they can become better nurses overall and provide better services. Once these necessary skills are learned, nurses have to be willing to use their growing base of information and knowledge in their work.

The second category is attitudinal professionalism. Nursing attitudes are very important as they guide how nurses view people, where nurses can understand the values and beliefs of their patients and the overall attitude they display at work and when caring for their patients.

Nursing attitudes should always align with the standards set by the healthcare organizations they work for and be guided by the goals of these organizations. The ability to let go of preconceived notions, be flexible and make compromises are integral parts of attitudinal professionalism and are critical for tackling many of the challenges that exist in the field of nursing.

The last category is the psychomotor aspect of nursing professionalism. This is the idea that as nurses grow in their careers, gain knowledge or seek higher education, they are willing to build skills in other areas than their primary nursing skills. For example, nurses who complete a higher degree sharpen their management, patient advocacy, research and analytics skills so they can better the field of nursing. While in the higher positions, their qualifications allow them to further grow their self-learning skills while pushing and teaching others to do the same.

Nurses can apply these three facets of nursing professionalism to not only become better nurses but to also become better leaders and establish themselves as proponents of providing the highest levels of patient care.

Demonstrating Professionalism in Nursing

There are several ways that nurses can demonstrate professionalism. Professional nurses put their patients first. The best nurses feel very strongly about upholding their patient’s rights and caring about their patient’s emotions.

Treating patients with kindness, respect and compassion is usually thought of as something nurses should be doing anyway, but they make a huge difference in how people perceive nurses and the care they receive. Additionally, nurses should always do what is best for their patients and be ready to uphold their patients’ wishes even when they do not align with those of their families.

Nurses should also be able to communicate clearly, succinctly, and effectively at times. This does not mean they have to use medical jargon all the time but to choose how they speak depending on why they are speaking to. When speaking to other healthcare professionals, it is appropriate to use a lot of medical jargon.

However, it is important to use language that patients and their families can understand. Nurses should also be advocates for bringing in translators when their patient speaks a language they do not understand. Effective communication also entails keeping clear and accurate records as well as having great interpersonal and handoff skills.

The third way to demonstrate nursing professionalism is to collaborate with others successfully. Nurses always work as a part of a team, whether it be with other nurses or other healthcare professionals. Nurses should be able to collaborate with others inside and outside their teams and be open to positive and constructive criticism.

Being part of a team also means feeling comfortable offering constructive feedback, praise, and constructive criticism to colleagues. Sharing learned or gained knowledge as well as offering to become a mentor are also ways to demonstrate professionalism.

Demonstrating Professionalism by Providing the Best Care

Nurses should also uphold a very high standard of care. This often entails using all the skills and experience they have to ensure they provide the best care. In some cases, it also means improving your skills and knowledge by using the many resources that are available to nurses.

One of the best resources for skill and knowledge improvement is online advanced nursing courses. Nurses who complete a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree gain skills that enable them to improve their standard of care or become nurse leaders who push for the improvement of these levels of care.

A positive attitude is crucial for nurses. Patients depend on their nurses to know how things are going and for emotional support. Having a bad or negative attitude will make it harder for you to become what your patients require you to be for them. A positive attitude is also important to get through many of the challenges you will face as a nurse.

Lastly, nurses can demonstrate professionalism by maintaining their integrity. The two best ways to do this are taking personal responsibility and holding oneself accountable for mistakes that happen. Accountability also means recognizing your limitations and finding ways to work through the limitations or improve in these areas.

How Nurses Can Develop Professionalism

Developing nursing professionalism often entails developing certain personal and professional skills. The first of these skills is conflict resolution. Conflicts happen between nurses, but not as frequently as they happen between nurses and patients or between nurses and their patients’ families.

Conflict resolution is the ability to de-escalate conflicts and to come up with reasonable and peaceful solutions that everyone can be happy with. It often requires listening to and considering the feelings and viewpoints of everyone involved and being as fair as possible when providing a solution. It is also a demonstration of professionalism if a nurse can de-escalate a conflict respectfully because emotions tend to run high in these situations.

Critical and Ethical Thinking

The second skill that demonstrates professionalism is critical thinking. This is the ability to make decisions or come up with solutions using objective analysis, evidence, and additional information. Critical thinking requires that you separate your feelings and personal opinions and come up with solutions outside them.

Critical thinking is not to be confused with ethical thinking, which is another skill professional nurses need. Ethical thinking entails making decisions based on moral codes and the professional standards set. The decision-making process should also take into account patient needs and wants above personal opinions and ways of thinking.

Personal Traits

Attention to detail can make a huge difference in how nurses provide patient care. Attention to detail entails making sure medication and other patient needs are met correctly. It also entails keeping clear and meticulous patient records in addition to double-checking everything you do to help avoid costly mistakes that can affect patient care.

Adaptability and leadership are also indicators of professional nursing. Adaptability is being able to change an approach if a situation and its circumstances change. To be adaptable, you need to be able to combine professional guidelines, education, experience, and information-gathering skills so you can use all of them together to make the best decisions.

Leadership and Collaboration

Leadership will often entail being able to motivate others to work towards a specific goal. It also entails the ability to push others to become better than they currently are. Leadership will often encompass many of the professional skills discussed above including respect, attention to detail, excellent communications skills, and more.

Collaboration, i.e., the ability to work successfully with others, is key for nurses who want to demonstrate professionalism. It allows nurses to corporate and communicate in ways that create a work environment that values patient care and better healthcare outcomes.

The Importance of Professionalism in Nursing

Now that we understand what professionalism in nursing is, how to demonstrate it and how to foster it, let us look at why it is important.

Professionalism allows nurses to provide the best care. Professional nurses use all the skills they have learned during the provision of care. They know how to handle delicate instruments, how to handle patients, when to ask for help in providing care as well as how to deal with patients’ families if they need to do so. All of this translates to better patient care and therefore patient outcomes.

Better Nursing Fraternity

The best nurses are those who are always learning, improving their skills, and increasing their knowledge. To have nurses like this in the field, many healthcare organizations encourage their nurses to pursue higher learning opportunities. Some of them also provide incentives for nurses to do so such as guaranteed employment after completing a course or a degree. The result is highly-trained nurses who can provide a higher level of care. The whole healthcare system improves as a whole and all stakeholders get to benefit from having better, more educated, and knowledgeable nurses attending to patients.

Professionalism fosters teamwork. Every professional nurse knows they have to play their part so the whole team can be successful. At crucial times such as when there is a large influx of patients, nurses support one another by working together, providing their expertise, and using their experience to ensure things do not get out of hand.

Higher Regard for Healthcare Facilities

Individual nurse attitudes affect other healthcare professionals. That includes physicians they may be working with and under, such as junior nurses, senior nurses, and staff nurses. When this happens, the level of patient care often goes down and this can be an indictment on the healthcare facility. By remaining professional and having a good attitude, professional nurses influence everyone around them to do the same. This results in happier, healthier patients and a healthcare organization highly regarded by patients, outsiders, and stakeholders alike.

Better Leadership

All professional nurses should have leadership skills, especially if they are at the managerial level or close to it. These skills allow them to take over when a physician is not available. They lead from the front to ensure patients receive the best care no matter what. This includes instances where there are emergencies or other catastrophic events.

Nurse leaders are so important because they later become nurse mentors. In this role, they help teach the new crop of junior nurses how to be professional nurses as well as the best nurses they can be. A nurse can’t teach these skills if they do not possess them. By teaching professionalism and all the skills it entails to junior nurses, senior nurses can ensure the field of nursing continues to improve by ensuring the new crop of nurses is more professional than the one that came before it.


Nursing is one of the fields where everyone is expected to be professional and to remain so at all times. Professionalism in nursing is so important considering that nurses play a significant role in determining patient outcomes and where people receive an adequate level of care. It is good to see most healthcare organizations requiring high levels of professionalism, nurses adhering to professional standards and these standards being ingrained in junior nurses just stepping into the field.

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