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Developing Critical Thinking and Clinical Judgement in Nursing

Critical Thinking and Clinical Judgement in Nursing

Critical thinking and clinical judgement are essential skills for nurses. As patient needs and healthcare practices continue to evolve, nurses must be able to assess situations, evaluate information, and make sound clinical judgements. This article explores strategies for critical thinking and clinical judgement in nursing.


In the complex and fast-paced healthcare environment, nurses are required to make quick decisions that can impact patient outcomes. They must be able to critically analyze patient information, evaluate interventions, and provide competent care. Developing critical thinking abilities and clinical judgement is vital for providing safe, quality patient care.

Critical thinking in nursing refers to purposeful, reasoned, and goal-directed thinking used to make clinical judgements. It involves skills like analysis, inference, evaluation, and inductive and deductive reasoning to reflect on and respond to clinical situations. Clinical judgement represents a nurse’s clinical reasoning within a specific situation that leads to action. Judgements are influenced by the nurse’s knowledge, experience, and critical thinking abilities.

Cultivating an Inquiring Mindset

Cultivating an inquiring mindset creates a foundation for critical thinking. This involves intellectual curiosity, searching for evidence, and asking meaningful questions. Nurses should consistently ask “why” to understand rationales behind clinical practices. Developing an inquiring mindset leads nurses to search for current evidence and continually seek new knowledge. This inquisitiveness fuels the development of critical thinking abilities.

Seeking Out Learning Opportunities

Critical thinking flourishes when nurses actively seek out learning opportunities. This can involve reading nursing journals, attending conferences, taking courses, and joining committees or projects. Actively learning exposes nurses to new ideas and perspectives. It allows them to expand their nursing knowledge, enhancing their ability to think critically and make sound clinical judgements. Nurses who engage in life-long learning are better equipped to provide evidence-based care.

Reflecting On Clinical Experiences

Reflective practice is a powerful tool to improve critical thinking and clinical judgement. After nursing interventions and clinical experiences, nurses should reflect on the situation, their response, and patient outcomes. This reflection identifies areas of strength and areas for improvement in clinical reasoning. Over time, reflective practice strengthens a nurse’s ability to make appropriate clinical judgements and interventions.

Collaboration with Colleagues

Collaborating with other nurses creates opportunities to enhance critical thinking from different perspectives. Engaging in intellectual discussions and decision-making with peers allows nurses to gain insights and improve reasoning skills. Nurses can present complex patient cases and interventions to colleagues to receive feedback. Working through real-life clinical scenarios together sharpens critical thinking abilities.

Simulations and Real-World Practice

Experiential learning with simulations and real-world practice is invaluable for developing clinical judgement. High-fidelity simulators and virtual reality programs create life-like patient scenarios. Nurses can practice assessments, prioritization, interventions, and clinical reasoning in a safe environment. These exercises prepare nurses for the complexity of real clinical situations. Over time, repeated practice strengthens clinical judgement skills.

Fostering Intellectual Flexibility

Critical thinking requires intellectual flexibility to adapt to new or evolving situations. Nurses need to challenge their own thinking biases, assumptions, and tendencies. Being open-minded, intellectually humble, and willing to change positions creates more effective clinical reasoning. Nurses should develop meta-cognition – thinking about their own thinking – to improve reasoning abilities.


Developing critical thinking and clinical judgement in nursing, nurses can provide safe, high-quality, evidence-based care. Such skills like intellectual curiosity, reflective practice, collaboration, and intellectual flexibility promotes strong critical thinking. When combined with experiential learning, nurses can provide safe, high-quality, evidence-based care. Critical thinking and clinical judgement are essential competencies that produce confident, proficient nurses.

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