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Industry Challenges
December 5, 2023

The Value of Critical Thinking in Nursing (And How to Develop It)


Ginelle Testa
UbiSim Story Teller

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In the pediatric intensive care unit, Nurse Emily faced a critical situation as eight-year-old Lily arrived with a high fever, rapid breathing, and confusion. Recognizing the signs of sepsis, Emily swiftly initiated treatment, including fluids and antibiotics. 

She ordered diagnostic tests that confirmed the diagnosis. Emily's quick thinking, timely actions, and effective communication with the medical team played a crucial role in stabilizing Lily's condition and saving her life. This fictional scenario underscores the importance of critical thinking in nursing, especially when dealing with life-threatening conditions like sepsis.

Critical thinking is an important aspect of successful nursing. We’re going to focus on why it’s important, tips for nurses to think critically, and how immersive virtual reality can help nurses develop this skill. 

What is critical thinking in nursing?

Critical thinking in nursing is the skill of analyzing information, making sound decisions, and solving healthcare problems effectively, ensuring better patient care and outcomes. 

In the above scenario, nurse Emily’s critical thinking skills could have saved 8-year-old Lily's life. 

Critical thinking, coupled with appropriate decision-making, leads to clinical judgment. Let’s explore what this means.  

Clinical judgment refers to the process by which nurses make decisions based on nursing knowledge (evidence, theories, ways/patterns of knowing), other disciplinary knowledge, critical thinking, and clinical reasoning, according to the AACN

There are six steps to the NCSBN Clinical Judgment Model

  • 1: Recognize cues.
  • 2: Analyze cues.
  • 3: Prioritize hypothesis.
  • 4: Generate solutions.
  • 5: Take action.
  • 6: Evaluate outcomes.

Strong clinical judgment skills are crucial for patient safety. In fact, studies have shown that up to 65% of adverse events in hospitals result from poor clinical decision-making and could have been prevented.

Check out our article on how UbiSim supports the six steps of clinical judgment

Why is critical thinking in nursing important?

In the realm of nursing, critical thinking is not merely a skill; it's the guiding light that nurses rely on to navigate the complex and ever-evolving landscape of healthcare. 

  • Impacts patient care: Imagine every patient as a unique puzzle. Critical thinking is nursing’s toolkit for solving these puzzles. It enables them to analyze all the pieces of information, consider various treatment options, and make decisions that are tailor-made for each patient, leading to patient outcomes that can be life-changing.
  • Helps nurses anticipate and understand patient condition changes: Sometimes, situations can evolve in the blink of an eye. Critical thinking doesn't just help nurses react; it empowers them to anticipate these changes, learning to pick up on subtle cues and signs that might signal potential issues, allowing them to act swiftly. 
  • Ensures patient safety: Patient safety is a nurse’s utmost priority, and critical thinking is the compass for ensuring it. It helps them assess risks, spot potential dangers, and take preventive measures. With critical thinking, they can identify and address errors before they have a chance to escalate.
  • Leads to better professional development for the nurse: A nurse’s ability to be a critical thinker doesn't just benefit patients; it also paves the way for their own growth. When they consistently demonstrate strong critical thinking skills, they earn the trust and respect of colleagues and supervisors. This opens doors to career progress and leadership roles within the healthcare system.

What are tips for nurses to improve critical thinking?

  1. Utilize your resources and mentors: Tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience that surrounds you. Seek guidance and advice from seasoned colleagues and mentors. They can provide valuable insights, share their experiences, and offer different perspectives on patient care. It may even be an opportunity to feel relief and validation from their experiences!
  2. Confront personal bias & assumptions: Bias can go undetected and can take many forms, such as size, culture, race, religion, age, sexuality, ability, socioeconomic status, gender, and more. Just being aware of these potential biases enables you to treat your patients on a level playing field. 
  3. Practice reflection: After a long day, the last thing a nurse wants to do is reflect, but taking a few minutes at the end of a week to consider what you did right and what could have used a different choice can contribute to better critical thinking. 
  4. Build confidence: Confidence plays a significant role in critical thinking. Nurses should trust in their knowledge, experience, and abilities, enabling them to approach challenges with a proactive and solution-oriented mindset. Building confidence through ongoing education, skill development, and positive reinforcement enhances critical thinking abilities in nursing practice.

Critical Thinking Using Virtual Reality

Thinking back to our situation with Nurse Emily and the eight-year-old with sepsis - imagine new nurse trainees starting on the job who have never dealt with sepsis. Do you want to wait until they experience it to have them implement what they learned in class? Or do you want to train them by enabling them to step into virtual reality and practice what it’s like to respond to a patient with sepsis? 

This is what Boston Children’s Hospital is doing - training their new nurses on how to effectively recognize and deal with sepsis using UbiSim’s immersive virtual reality platform. Read their case study to learn more!
Interested in trying UbiSim in your healthcare institution?
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Ginelle Testa
UbiSim Story Teller

As an integral center of UbiSim's content team, Ginelle pens stories on the rapidly changing landscape of VR in nursing simulation. Ginelle is committed to elevating the voices of practicing nurses, nurse educators, and program leaders who are making a difference.

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