4 Steps to Master Critical Thinking in Nursing School


What is critical thinking for nursing?

View NURSING.com Critical Thinking Lesson

Chances are you’ve heard about critical thinking over and over from your nursing instructors, read about it in text books and seen it on tests.

Has anyone actually shown you how to use critical thinking in a nursing setting? I break it down in 4 simple steps how you can master critical thinking.

This will not only serve you well in nursing school but also in your career as a nurse. We can all fall into ruts of assuming things prior to taking in all the available information even as practicing nurses.

If you apply these 4 steps to master critical thinking without prior judgement it will make you a better nurse and keep your patients safe.

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Podcast Transcription

Welcome to the NRSNG podcast where we bring you helpful tips and stories to help you navigate nursing school and become a great nurse. NRSNG is the best place to learn nursing and created by your host, Jon Haws, RN 


Today we’re talking critical thinking, critical thinking. I was trying to figure out how to spell that, but we’re just gonna go with critical thinking if this is a buzzword in a nursing school, and I don’t want it to intimidate you guys because once you learn the process of critical thinking, everything’s going to come to you. I think we talk about it so much in nursing school, we never talk about how to do it or what it really means. The national council for excellence in critical thinking defines critical thinking as the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, and synthesizing information. All right, so while we’re all familiar with decision making in life, like what am I gonna wear today? What am I gonna eat today? This isn’t critical thinking. This is just decision making. The NTSB and also States who the NTSB is who administers the INCLAX. 

They States that since the practice of nursing requires you to apply knowledge, skills, and abilities, the majority of questions on the end, cliques are written at the cognitive level of apply or higher level of question. And these questions by nature require critical thinking. So this is why your professors are telling you to critically think. Yet we don’t get a lot of guidance on how to do that. So it interests in, gee, we’ve developed a four step process for critical thinking. It’s that simple. Once you apply this four step process, you’re gonna be able to critically, critically think like a master. So our four step process, and we have this, this cheat sheet, this download, this PDF guide of how to do this inside the test taking course on NRSNG. It’s free. Go sign up and take our critical thinking lesson. But this four step process is first, you must suspend all judgment. 

Second, you must collect all information. Third, you must balance all information. And then fourth, make a holistic decision. So number one, suspend all judgment. When you enter a decision, especially if requires critical thinking. You can’t go in with a decision or he made. Is this that simple? You must go in saying, I have no idea what’s going on here and I have to suspend all that judgment so when you walk into a patient’s room, I’m not going in with anything decided yet. I’m going into assess this patient. Once you go in with that frame of mind, you’re able to, then number two, collect all information so you’re not saying, well, there’s diabetic patient. They’re shaking. I know exactly what’s going on. You’re saying, here’s a patient. They’re shaking. I need to collect some information. What’s their heart rate? What’s their temperature? What’s their blood sugar? 

You’re collecting all the data that you can find, not just the pieces of data that confirmed the decision you already made. You’re collecting everything here. Then you must balance all information. So balancing means, okay, I have all this information in front of me. What do I do with it? Okay, heart rates, ADA, no problem. Temperature’s 98 no problem. Blood sugars, 30 Oh, I’ve got a problem. I got to go do something with that information, you balanced all of it. This is the most important right here is this blood sugar. Now you go and you make a holistic decision. Diabetic patients, when their blood sugar is 30 I have to do something. What I gotta do, I go, look at my orders. I give that D 50 is that simple? That’s how you critically think. We have that cheat sheet. I want you guys to use it because it’s gonna make a huge difference. 

Now, here’s what happens though. Uh, as nursing students, as we get a little bit of information, or even as nurses, we get a little bit of information, we think I got to act. I’m going to act right away because I want to be a great nurse. That’s not the best way to do it. Let me give you an example from our nursing practice questions. This is our huge database, about 5,000 in click style questions. And here’s one question that a lot of students get wrong. I’m going to read it to you. It says, a 56 year old patient has been admitted to the cardiac unit with exacerbation of heart failure symptoms. The nurse has given him a nursing diagnosis of decreased cardiac output related to heart failure as evidenced by a poor ejection fraction weakness, a DEMA and decreased urinary output. Which of the following nursing interventions are most important for this situation? 

Now, here’s the problem. 42% of students select the wrong answer because they haven’t suspended judgment and they’re making a decision immediately. 42% of students say, I’m going to administer an IV fluid bolus to increase urinary output. What they’re seeing is they have this decreased urinary output. They have, um, what was the other one? Decreased cardiac output, decreased urinary output. They’re like, let’s give some fluids. The problem is, guys, this is a CHF patient. We can’t just give this patient a ton of fluids. We’re going to exacerbate the CHF. So by not suspending judgment, by not collecting all the data possible, we just put this patient, 42% students, put this patient in a life threatening condition. So you’ve got to follow these four steps. Don’t just throw the word critical thinking around, actually follow this process. It’s that simple. I promise it’ll work for you. We have this course. We have these sheets, sheets inside in our SNG, but these tips are going to help you massively, not just in nursing school, but on the NCLEX and in your life as a nurse and in your general life out on the street. I’m Jon Haws within our S and G. go out and be your best self today. Happy nursing. 

Thank you for tuning into another NRSNG podcast episode. Make sure to head on over to www.nrsng.com and create your free account to see why we’re the fastest growing nurse education platform. Happy nursing 

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