From Florence Nightingale to the present, the value, importance, and respect for nurses has remained strong.  Nurses have been rated as the most trusted profession by the 2020 Gallup Survey and is the largest group of healthcare workers in the world.  The World Health Organization declared 2020 to be the “Year of the Nurse”  in honor of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday.  For nurses everywhere, 2020 was a year to remember with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.  As frontline healthcare providers, nurses are still battling to safeguard the lives of their patients while trying to protect themselves.  Like Florence Nightingale, they have been recognized as heroes and continue to be heralded as lifesavers!  Nightingale’s mission was to improve hygiene practices while significantly lowering the death rate in the hospital during the Crimean War.

“The role of the nurse has evolved, but some things haven’t changed. Nurses have always cared for the sick, the well, and the dying. We promote health and prevent illness. We interpret what is happening so that patients understand it. We are there for the entire patient experience from birth to old age, from wellness to illness, and throughout age and illness toward a peaceful and dignified death.” (The Conversation, 2020)  

Healthcare Evolution

As nursing has evolved so have our healthcare institutions, requiring the profile of its nursing staff to shift.  Healthcare facilities as we know them today range from public, private, for profit and not for-profit and offer a range of services expanding from acute to long term care that are complex, and multi-dimensional. Many have become part of corporations and are challenged by the forces of change and must either adapt or enact new strategies to remain relevant.  As a result, the need for a diverse, competent, and versatile workforce is critical.


Critical Skills for New Graduates

The competencies of the nursing workforce are front and center for all public health and healthcare employers.  From Nightingale to today, nurses have always been known for their ability to perform skills and these competencies remain important; however, a shift has occurred.  

The Thought Leader Assembly conference attended several years ago shared what employers are looking for in new nursing graduates. Surprisingly, “soft skills” were cited as the most important criteria versus technical skills. Soft skills are described as social skills, interpersonal skills and a positive attitude. Soft skills include the following which are important in management and leadership skills required in patient care today:

  • Plan, organize, & prioritize work,
  • Solve problems & make decisions,
  • Work well in teams,
  • Communicate professionally in writing and speech, and 
  • Exhibit professional etiquette.


The thought leaders identified the following soft skills as essential for new graduates:

  • Effective communicators,
  • Critical Thinkers and problem solvers,
  • Collaborative and team oriented,
  • Able to manage complex care scenarios, 
  • Technologically savvy, and 
  • Adaptable to change or flexible. 


Healthcare leaders are not only looking for new nurses who are nimble, but also those that value diversity and civility.  Why? Because the way they do business today may not be the way they do business tomorrow.  The ability to manage your behavior while under pressure and constant change is essential to creating a culture of resilience.  Nurses are lifelong learners, and this attribute is equally important to a new graduates’ ability to thrive in an ever-changing healthcare environment.  


In summary:  Preparing for your first job as a nurse can be daunting but understanding what employers are looking for allows you to be prepared.  Remember, your ability to perform skills are important but the development of soft skills are equally important.   These skills will equip you to successfully navigate and lead any work environment.


photograph of author Dr. Lepaine Sharp-McHenry, DNP, MS,  RN  FACDONA

Dr. Lepaine Sharp-McHenry, DNP, MS,  RN  FACDONA, a nurse by profession and is experienced in higher education, nursing practice, and nursing regulation. She has gained recognition as a leader in her field who actively supports mentorship and leadership development.  She is an enthusiastic advocate  of branding your professional image among her colleagues and has gained the respect of industry leaders across the country.  She is known for her extraordinary service in politics, education, and her community.  She is committed to volunteerism and making a difference at the local, state, and national level. McHenry currently serves as the Dean and Professor of the College of Natural, Behavioral, and Health Sciences at Simmons University, Boston, MA.