Nurses and midwives: these are the skills that you are expected to possess

This blog post is for all the student nurses and midwives out there!

This summer, I interviewed Cathy Taylor, the Careers Adviser at the Royal College of Nursing. Cathy knows everything there is to know about nursing and midwifery, and the chat I had with her, which is transcribed below, is packed with useful tips for both newly qualified professionals and students. For more information about the RCN, visit www.rcn.org.uk

EB: What are the personal skills that nurses and midwives need to demonstrate?

CT: One of the most important skills is communication, and all that goes with that. Nurses and midwives communicate with people all day every day. People from diverse backgrounds, patients, relatives, doctors, support workers, professionals in the NHS… Communication is absolutely vital. Nurses and midwives need to demonstrate listening skills, being able to empathise with others… they also need to be assertive when for example you need to get a doctor to see a patient quickly. You also need your communications skills in roles such as teaching. Teaching more junior nurses, students, health care assistants, support workers teaching patients and again this is about listening, being patient, being able to summarise information for the people you are communicating with and being able to show a degree of confidence in your communication skills. This also plays into also being able to work well in a team, because that as well is about communication and building relationships. Quite often within teams, especially in the NHS as it is now, a very pressurised environment, sometimes there are conflicts with patients, with relatives who are anxious, sometimes angry, sometimes affected by drugs and alcohol. So the ability to deal with conflict is also a very useful skill to develop throughout your nursing career.

EB: What can student nurses and midwives do alongside their studies in order to develop those skills?

CT: One of the main things is to continuously reflect on your learning from your practice. Especially when things don’t go well, because that’s when we learn the most, it’s important to find time to jot down a few ideas about what worked and what didn’t, and what they learnt from that. Using other people to help them reflect is important, spending time with their mentor talking about issues, being open about challenges they face in dealing with those issues and seeking support and guidance from someone who is more experienced. Make use of personal tutors, colleagues, peers and of the RCN’s resources. We have a help line called RCN direct, where our members can seek support on employment, professional issues etc. Keep a portfolio where you log record of your progress and evidence of possessing those skills: thank you letters from patients, relatives, positive feedback from mentors…

EB: What is the typical recruitment process like for newly qualified nurses?

CT: It does tend to vary. Increasingly, employers are using forms of assessment other than the interview. Sometimes there will be some written tests on literacy, verbal reasoning and the ability to calculate drugs, a care plan activity or a written response to a patient scenario. Some employers would use that at the initial stage. Sometimes there is also some sort of role-play involved, or a team discussion with other candidates. Sometimes employers use actors who take on the role of a patient and the candidates are assessed on how they deal with the issues. The next step is usually an interview. Most interviews are conducted by a panel consisting of the line manager, possibly another senior nurse and someone from HR. The questions asked relate to the person specification and they use a scoring system against a set of criteria that they are looking for.

EB: You mention written tests. Are there any resources to help candidates prepare for those?

CT: On the RCN website, there is a fact sheet on assessment centres that contains lots of links to videos on exercises etc (for members)

EB: Talking about recruitment processes, do you think they are likely to change in the future due to the Francis report?

CT: It may be that the NHS develops psychometric tests that test values such as the importance of providing dignified care, respect, etc…

EB: Why should nurses join the RCN?

CT: Nursing is a risky profession as you are responsible for people’s lives and there is a high level of accountability. The RCN is a union totally dedicated to the needs of nurses and midwives. This means that you get excellent representation and support should any problems arise in your career. But even as a student, for £10 you get access to the RCN library that’s available on line, with over 400 nursing journals. It’s probably the biggest nursing library in Europe. You can also use the new state of the arts library at 20 Cavendish Square. We also have a volunteering role called student information officer, which any student member can take on. This involves disseminating information to your peers and it’s a fantastic way to keep up to date on issues affecting healthcare and showing a commitment to the profession. We also have access to free services such as counselling, careers advice and other issues on RCN direct, from 8 am to 8 pm 7 days a week. Members can also attend conferences and events, job fairs etc.

EB: What are your three top tips for newly qualified nurses when looking for jobs?


  1. The number one place for looking for jobs is nhsjobs, so make sure you have an account.
  2. Practise your interview technique with your Careers Service, senior nurses, the RCN if you are a member… Practise as much as you can!
  3. Whilst on placement keep a diary that will help you latter, when you are asked to provide evidence of your skills.

Estanis Bouza

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