Critical Thinking: What Is It, And Why Is It Vital In Nursing?

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking could be considered a key skill within almost any sector, but in nursing, it is vital to the provision of effective, ongoing care.

So how exactly is critical thinking defined, and what applications does it have within the healthcare industry? How can future and practicing nurses develop strong critical thinking skills to aid in the performance of their daily duties and tasks?

Below, we will answer these questions and provide further insight into the application of critical thinking skills within medicine.

What is critical thinking?

The term “critical thinking” can be defined as a set of analytical skills that aid in problem-solving and decision-making, inform the actions of an individual or group, and ensure peak efficacy.

The critical thinking process can be broken down into the following steps.


This refers to the initial recognition of problems or challenges and the potential solutions and opportunities that arise from them. Ask questions like, What are their symptoms? How long have they been suffering from this condition, and what is its severity? Is there any possibility of an alternative diagnosis? What is the evidence that they are complying well with their treatment plan? Are they taking any other medications?


This refers to the further study of these problems and challenges through the processing of accurate and relevant information. The answers to the questions asked in observation can be used to determine possible causes, whether it is side effects from medication the patient is already on, or a symptom checker to see what illnesses or conditions it may be. It could also be that the patient is not properly complying with their treatment plan, whether due to mistrust, undereducation, or any other reason.


This stage draws a logical conclusion after all data has been collected and analyzed and alternative possibilities have been ruled out as effectively as possible.


This is the collation of analyzed information in a manner that allows those working on a problem to better understand its components and explore solutions to find the one that will be most effective and least detrimental overall. After the analysis has been undertaken and the nurse has inferred the causes and explored the possibilities, she can determine the reason behind the symptoms, whether it be in relation to medication, lifestyle, or other factors. They can then set out one or more potential courses of action, informed by their findings, that may help resolve the issue, while also being aware of any risks that may arise from either keeping things as they are or pursuing a new course of action.


This refers to the development of a final overview of the problem-solving task, whereby the conclusion is communicated with the support of evidence gathered within the observation and analysis stages.

By evaluating your findings, a nurse is able to produce a clear and informative report—for their own use and/or for use by colleagues—that will present the conclusions they’ve drawn and the reasoning that supports them.

A thorough evaluation will also help the nurse select the most effective course of action moving forward.


The evaluated findings are shared with other relevant parties to inform them to either implement treatment themselves if the nurse is not qualified to do it, such as surgery, or the nurse can enact their own treatment within the capacity of their job role.

Why must nurses be skilled critical thinkers?

Strong powers of observation and quick, effective, and well-informed decision-making are key skills within the field of nursing.

From life-saving diagnosis and prescribing to expert budgeting and the development of effective treatment plans, healthcare professionals who are adept at critical thinking can make a difference in a range of processes.

Nurses who regularly showcase well-honed critical thinking abilities are also more likely to progress swiftly within their field.

How to develop your critical thinking skills as a nurse?

There are a range of techniques that you can use to improve your critical thinking.

Nursing university courses include the teaching of evaluative methods of this kind. The University of Indianapolis’s online BSN-DNP AGPCNP course is a part-time course to accommodate working nurses and allow them to expand their knowledge and hone their critical thinking around their work schedules.

For best results and to support your learning, it is worth taking note of the critical thinking steps listed above and utilizing them as a decision-making tool throughout your day-to-day undertakings.

For the reasons discussed above, it is clear that critical thinking is a key aspect of nursing.

Excellent observational, analytical, and evaluative skills are and will always remain vital when planning and delivering treatment, so if you work as a nurse or plan to enter the profession in the future, this is certainly an ability to actively pursue and carefully cultivate.