The Value of Critical Thinking in Nursing

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN

  • How Nurses Use Critical Thinking
  • How to Improve Critical Thinking
  • Common Mistakes

Male nurse checking on a patient

Some experts describe a person’s ability to question belief systems, test previously held assumptions, and recognize ambiguity as evidence of critical thinking. Others identify specific skills that demonstrate critical thinking, such as the ability to identify problems and biases, infer and draw conclusions, and determine the relevance of information to a situation.

Nicholas McGowan, BSN, RN, CCRN, has been a critical care nurse for 10 years in neurological trauma nursing and cardiovascular and surgical intensive care. He defines critical thinking as “necessary for problem-solving and decision-making by healthcare providers. It is a process where people use a logical process to gather information and take purposeful action based on their evaluation.”

“This cognitive process is vital for excellent patient outcomes because it requires that nurses make clinical decisions utilizing a variety of different lenses, such as fairness, ethics, and evidence-based practice,” he says.

How Do Nurses Use Critical Thinking?

Successful nurses think beyond their assigned tasks to deliver excellent care for their patients. For example, a nurse might be tasked with changing a wound dressing, delivering medications, and monitoring vital signs during a shift. However, it requires critical thinking skills to understand how a difference in the wound may affect blood pressure and temperature and when those changes may require immediate medical intervention.

Nurses care for many patients during their shifts. Strong critical thinking skills are crucial when juggling various tasks so patient safety and care are not compromised.

Jenna Liphart Rhoads, Ph.D., RN, is a nurse educator with a clinical background in surgical-trauma adult critical care, where critical thinking and action were essential to the safety of her patients. She talks about examples of critical thinking in a healthcare environment, saying:

“Nurses must also critically think to determine which patient to see first, which medications to pass first, and the order in which to organize their day caring for patients. Patient conditions and environments are continually in flux, therefore nurses must constantly be evaluating and re-evaluating information they gather (assess) to keep their patients safe.”

The COVID-19 pandemic created hospital care situations where critical thinking was essential. It was expected of the nurses on the general floor and in intensive care units. Crystal Slaughter is an advanced practice nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU) and a nurse educator. She observed critical thinking throughout the pandemic as she watched intensive care nurses test the boundaries of previously held beliefs and master providing excellent care while preserving resources.

“Nurses are at the patient’s bedside and are often the first ones to detect issues. Then, the nurse needs to gather the appropriate subjective and objective data from the patient in order to frame a concise problem statement or question for the physician or advanced practice provider,” she explains.

Top 5 Ways Nurses Can Improve Critical Thinking Skills

We asked our experts for the top five strategies nurses can use to purposefully improve their critical thinking skills.

Case-Based Approach

Slaughter is a fan of the case-based approach to learning critical thinking skills.

In much the same way a detective would approach a mystery, she mentors her students to ask questions about the situation that help determine the information they have and the information they need. “What is going on? What information am I missing? Can I get that information? What does that information mean for the patient? How quickly do I need to act?”

Consider forming a group and working with a mentor who can guide you through case studies. This provides you with a learner-centered environment in which you can analyze data to reach conclusions and develop communication, analytical, and collaborative skills with your colleagues.

Practice Self-Reflection

Rhoads is an advocate for self-reflection. “Nurses should reflect upon what went well or did not go well in their workday and identify areas of improvement or situations in which they should have reached out for help.” Self-reflection is a form of personal analysis to observe and evaluate situations and how you responded.

This gives you the opportunity to discover mistakes you may have made and to establish new behavior patterns that may help you make better decisions. You likely already do this. For example, after a disagreement or contentious meeting, you may go over the conversation in your head and think about ways you could have responded.

It’s important to go through the decisions you made during your day and determine if you should have gotten more information before acting or if you could have asked better questions.

During self-reflection, you may try thinking about the problem in reverse. This may not give you an immediate answer, but can help you see the situation with fresh eyes and a new perspective. How would the outcome of the day be different if you planned the dressing change in reverse with the assumption you would find a wound infection? How does this information change your plan for the next dressing change?

Develop a Questioning Mind

McGowan has learned that “critical thinking is a self-driven process. It isn’t something that can simply be taught. Rather, it is something that you practice and cultivate with experience. To develop critical thinking skills, you have to be curious and inquisitive.”

To gain critical thinking skills, you must undergo a purposeful process of learning strategies and using them consistently so they become a habit. One of those strategies is developing a questioning mind. Meaningful questions lead to useful answers and are at the core of critical thinking .

However, learning to ask insightful questions is a skill you must develop. Faced with staff and nursing shortages , declining patient conditions, and a rising number of tasks to be completed, it may be difficult to do more than finish the task in front of you. Yet, questions drive active learning and train your brain to see the world differently and take nothing for granted.

It is easier to practice questioning in a non-stressful, quiet environment until it becomes a habit. Then, in the moment when your patient’s care depends on your ability to ask the right questions, you can be ready to rise to the occasion.

Practice Self-Awareness in the Moment

Critical thinking in nursing requires self-awareness and being present in the moment. During a hectic shift, it is easy to lose focus as you struggle to finish every task needed for your patients. Passing medication, changing dressings, and hanging intravenous lines all while trying to assess your patient’s mental and emotional status can affect your focus and how you manage stress as a nurse .

Staying present helps you to be proactive in your thinking and anticipate what might happen, such as bringing extra lubricant for a catheterization or extra gloves for a dressing change.

By staying present, you are also better able to practice active listening. This raises your assessment skills and gives you more information as a basis for your interventions and decisions.

Use a Process

As you are developing critical thinking skills, it can be helpful to use a process. For example:

  • Ask questions.
  • Gather information.
  • Implement a strategy.
  • Evaluate the results.
  • Consider another point of view.

These are the fundamental steps of the nursing process (assess, diagnose, plan, implement, evaluate). The last step will help you overcome one of the common problems of critical thinking in nursing — personal bias.

Common Critical Thinking Pitfalls in Nursing

Your brain uses a set of processes to make inferences about what’s happening around you. In some cases, your unreliable biases can lead you down the wrong path. McGowan places personal biases at the top of his list of common pitfalls to critical thinking in nursing.

“We all form biases based on our own experiences. However, nurses have to learn to separate their own biases from each patient encounter to avoid making false assumptions that may interfere with their care,” he says. Successful critical thinkers accept they have personal biases and learn to look out for them. Awareness of your biases is the first step to understanding if your personal bias is contributing to the wrong decision.

New nurses may be overwhelmed by the transition from academics to clinical practice, leading to a task-oriented mindset and a common new nurse mistake ; this conflicts with critical thinking skills.

“Consider a patient whose blood pressure is low but who also needs to take a blood pressure medication at a scheduled time. A task-oriented nurse may provide the medication without regard for the patient’s blood pressure because medication administration is a task that must be completed,” Slaughter says. “A nurse employing critical thinking skills would address the low blood pressure, review the patient’s blood pressure history and trends, and potentially call the physician to discuss whether medication should be withheld.”

Fear and pride may also stand in the way of developing critical thinking skills. Your belief system and worldview provide comfort and guidance, but this can impede your judgment when you are faced with an individual whose belief system or cultural practices are not the same as yours. Fear or pride may prevent you from pursuing a line of questioning that would benefit the patient. Nurses with strong critical thinking skills exhibit:

  • Learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of other nurses
  • Look forward to integrating changes that improve patient care
  • Treat each patient interaction as a part of a whole
  • Evaluate new events based on past knowledge and adjust decision-making as needed
  • Solve problems with their colleagues
  • Are self-confident
  • Acknowledge biases and seek to ensure these do not impact patient care

An Essential Skill for All Nurses

Critical thinking in nursing protects patient health and contributes to professional development and career advancement. Administrative and clinical nursing leaders are required to have strong critical thinking skills to be successful in their positions.

By using the strategies in this guide during your daily life and in your nursing role, you can intentionally improve your critical thinking abilities and be rewarded with better patient outcomes and potential career advancement.

Frequently Asked Questions About Critical Thinking in Nursing

How are critical thinking skills utilized in nursing practice.

Nursing practice utilizes critical thinking skills to provide the best care for patients. Often, the patient’s cause of pain or health issue is not immediately clear. Nursing professionals need to use their knowledge to determine what might be causing distress, collect vital information, and make quick decisions on how best to handle the situation.

How does nursing school develop critical thinking skills?

Nursing school gives students the knowledge professional nurses use to make important healthcare decisions for their patients. Students learn about diseases, anatomy, and physiology, and how to improve the patient’s overall well-being. Learners also participate in supervised clinical experiences, where they practice using their critical thinking skills to make decisions in professional settings.

Do only nurse managers use critical thinking?

Nurse managers certainly use critical thinking skills in their daily duties. But when working in a health setting, anyone giving care to patients uses their critical thinking skills. Everyone — including licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and advanced nurse practitioners —needs to flex their critical thinking skills to make potentially life-saving decisions.

Meet Our Contributors

Portrait of Crystal Slaughter, DNP, APRN, ACNS-BC, CNE

Crystal Slaughter, DNP, APRN, ACNS-BC, CNE

Crystal Slaughter is a core faculty member in Walden University’s RN-to-BSN program. She has worked as an advanced practice registered nurse with an intensivist/pulmonary service to provide care to hospitalized ICU patients and in inpatient palliative care. Slaughter’s clinical interests lie in nursing education and evidence-based practice initiatives to promote improving patient care.

Portrait of Jenna Liphart Rhoads, Ph.D., RN

Jenna Liphart Rhoads, Ph.D., RN

Jenna Liphart Rhoads is a nurse educator and freelance author and editor. She earned a BSN from Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing and an MS in nursing education from Northern Illinois University. Rhoads earned a Ph.D. in education with a concentration in nursing education from Capella University where she researched the moderation effects of emotional intelligence on the relationship of stress and GPA in military veteran nursing students. Her clinical background includes surgical-trauma adult critical care, interventional radiology procedures, and conscious sedation in adult and pediatric populations.

Portrait of Nicholas McGowan, BSN, RN, CCRN

Nicholas McGowan, BSN, RN, CCRN

Nicholas McGowan is a critical care nurse with 10 years of experience in cardiovascular, surgical intensive care, and neurological trauma nursing. McGowan also has a background in education, leadership, and public speaking. He is an online learner who builds on his foundation of critical care nursing, which he uses directly at the bedside where he still practices. In addition, McGowan hosts an online course at Critical Care Academy where he helps nurses achieve critical care (CCRN) certification.

What is Critical Thinking in Nursing? (With Examples, Importance, & How to Improve)

nursing critical thinking and problem solving

Successful nursing requires learning several skills used to communicate with patients, families, and healthcare teams. One of the most essential skills nurses must develop is the ability to demonstrate critical thinking. If you are a nurse, perhaps you have asked if there is a way to know how to improve critical thinking in nursing? As you read this article, you will learn what critical thinking in nursing is and why it is important. You will also find 18 simple tips to improve critical thinking in nursing and sample scenarios about how to apply critical thinking in your nursing career.

What Is Critical Thinking In Nursing?

4 reasons why critical thinking is so important in nursing, 1. critical thinking skills will help you anticipate and understand changes in your patient’s condition., 2. with strong critical thinking skills, you can make decisions about patient care that is most favorable for the patient and intended outcomes., 3. strong critical thinking skills in nursing can contribute to innovative improvements and professional development., 4. critical thinking skills in nursing contribute to rational decision-making, which improves patient outcomes., what are the 8 important attributes of excellent critical thinking in nursing, 1. the ability to interpret information:, 2. independent thought:, 3. impartiality:, 4. intuition:, 5. problem solving:, 6. flexibility:, 7. perseverance:, 8. integrity:, examples of poor critical thinking vs excellent critical thinking in nursing, 1. scenario: patient/caregiver interactions, poor critical thinking:, excellent critical thinking:, 2. scenario: improving patient care quality, 3. scenario: interdisciplinary collaboration, 4. scenario: precepting nursing students and other nurses, how to improve critical thinking in nursing, 1. demonstrate open-mindedness., 2. practice self-awareness., 3. avoid judgment., 4. eliminate personal biases., 5. do not be afraid to ask questions., 6. find an experienced mentor., 7. join professional nursing organizations., 8. establish a routine of self-reflection., 9. utilize the chain of command., 10. determine the significance of data and decide if it is sufficient for decision-making., 11. volunteer for leadership positions or opportunities., 12. use previous facts and experiences to help develop stronger critical thinking skills in nursing., 13. establish priorities., 14. trust your knowledge and be confident in your abilities., 15. be curious about everything., 16. practice fair-mindedness., 17. learn the value of intellectual humility., 18. never stop learning., 4 consequences of poor critical thinking in nursing, 1. the most significant risk associated with poor critical thinking in nursing is inadequate patient care., 2. failure to recognize changes in patient status:, 3. lack of effective critical thinking in nursing can impact the cost of healthcare., 4. lack of critical thinking skills in nursing can cause a breakdown in communication within the interdisciplinary team., useful resources to improve critical thinking in nursing, youtube videos, my final thoughts, frequently asked questions answered by our expert, 1. will lack of critical thinking impact my nursing career, 2. usually, how long does it take for a nurse to improve their critical thinking skills, 3. do all types of nurses require excellent critical thinking skills, 4. how can i assess my critical thinking skills in nursing.

• Ask relevant questions • Justify opinions • Address and evaluate multiple points of view • Explain assumptions and reasons related to your choice of patient care options

5. Can I Be a Nurse If I Cannot Think Critically?

nursing critical thinking and problem solving

  • Research article
  • Open access
  • Published: 07 October 2020

Impact of social problem-solving training on critical thinking and decision making of nursing students

  • Soleiman Ahmady 1 &
  • Sara Shahbazi   ORCID: 2 , 3  

BMC Nursing volume  19 , Article number:  94 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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The complex health system and challenging patient care environment require experienced nurses, especially those with high cognitive skills such as problem-solving, decision- making and critical thinking. Therefore, this study investigated the impact of social problem-solving training on nursing students’ critical thinking and decision-making.

This study was quasi-experimental research and pre-test and post-test design and performed on 40 undergraduate/four-year students of nursing in Borujen Nursing School/Iran that was randomly divided into 2 groups; experimental ( n  = 20) and control (n = 20). Then, a social problem-solving course was held for the experimental group. A demographic questionnaire, social problem-solving inventory-revised, California critical thinking test, and decision-making questionnaire was used to collect the information. The reliability and validity of all of them were confirmed. Data analysis was performed using SPSS software and independent sampled T-test, paired T-test, square chi, and Pearson correlation coefficient.

The finding indicated that the social problem-solving course positively affected the student’ social problem-solving and decision-making and critical thinking skills after the instructional course in the experimental group ( P  < 0.05), but this result was not observed in the control group ( P  > 0.05).


The results showed that structured social problem-solving training could improve cognitive problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making skills. Considering this result, nursing education should be presented using new strategies and creative and different ways from traditional education methods. Cognitive skills training should be integrated in the nursing curriculum. Therefore, training cognitive skills such as problem- solving to nursing students is recommended.

Peer Review reports

Continuous monitoring and providing high-quality care to patients is one of the main tasks of nurses. Nurses’ roles are diverse and include care, educational, supportive, and interventional roles when dealing with patients’ clinical problems [ 1 , 2 ].

Providing professional nursing services requires the cognitive skills such as problem-solving, decision-making and critical thinking, and information synthesis [ 3 ].

Problem-solving is an essential skill in nursing. Improving this skill is very important for nurses because it is an intellectual process which requires the reflection and creative thinking [ 4 ].

Problem-solving skill means acquiring knowledge to reach a solution, and a person’s ability to use this knowledge to find a solution requires critical thinking. The promotion of these skills is considered a necessary condition for nurses’ performance in the nursing profession [ 5 , 6 ].

Managing the complexities and challenges of health systems requires competent nurses with high levels of critical thinking skills. A nurse’s critical thinking skills can affect patient safety because it enables nurses to correctly diagnose the patient’s initial problem and take the right action for the right reason [ 4 , 7 , 8 ].

Problem-solving and decision-making are complex and difficult processes for nurses, because they have to care for multiple patients with different problems in complex and unpredictable treatment environments [ 9 , 10 ].

Clinical decision making is an important element of professional nursing care; nurses’ ability to form effective clinical decisions is the most significant issue affecting the care standard. Nurses build 2 kinds of choices associated with the practice: patient care decisions that affect direct patient care and occupational decisions that affect the work context or teams [ 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 ].

The utilization of nursing process guarantees the provision of professional and effective care. The nursing process provides nurses with the chance to learn problem-solving skills through teamwork, health management, and patient care. Problem-solving is at the heart of nursing process which is why this skill underlies all nursing practices. Therefore, proper training of this skill in an undergraduate nursing program is essential [ 17 ].

Nursing students face unique problems which are specific to the clinical and therapeutic environment, causing a lot of stresses during clinical education. This stress can affect their problem- solving skills [ 18 , 19 , 20 , 21 ]. They need to promote their problem-solving and critical thinking skills to meet the complex needs of current healthcare settings and should be able to respond to changing circumstances and apply knowledge and skills in different clinical situations [ 22 ]. Institutions should provide this important opportunity for them.

Despite, the results of studies in nursing students show the weakness of their problem-solving skills, while in complex health environments and exposure to emerging diseases, nurses need to diagnose problems and solve them rapidly accurately. The teaching of these skills should begin in college and continue in health care environments [ 5 , 23 , 24 ].

It should not be forgotten that in addition to the problems caused by the patients’ disease, a large proportion of the problems facing nurses are related to the procedures of the natural life of their patients and their families, the majority of nurses with the rest of health team and the various roles defined for nurses [ 25 ].

Therefore, in addition to above- mentioned issues, other ability is required to deal with common problems in the working environment for nurses, the skill is “social problem solving”, because the term social problem-solving includes a method of problem-solving in the “natural context” or the “real world” [ 26 , 27 ]. In reviewing the existing research literature on the competencies and skills required by nursing students, what attracts a lot of attention is the weakness of basic skills and the lack of formal and systematic training of these skills in the nursing curriculum, it indicates a gap in this area [ 5 , 24 , 25 ]. In this regard, the researchers tried to reduce this significant gap by holding a formal problem-solving skills training course, emphasizing the common social issues in the real world of work. Therefore, this study was conducted to investigate the impact of social problem-solving skills training on nursing students’ critical thinking and decision-making.

Setting and sample

This quasi-experimental study with pretest and post-test design was performed on 40 undergraduate/four-year nursing students in Borujen nursing school in Shahrekord University of Medical Sciences. The periods of data collection were 4 months.

According to the fact that senior students of nursing have passed clinical training and internship programs, they have more familiarity with wards and treatment areas, patients and issues in treatment areas and also they have faced the problems which the nurses have with other health team personnel and patients and their families, they have been chosen for this study. Therefore, this study’s sampling method was based on the purpose, and the sample size was equal to the total population. The whole of four-year nursing students participated in this study and the sample size was 40 members. Participants was randomly divided in 2 groups; experimental ( n  = 20) and control (n = 20).

The inclusion criteria to take part in the present research were students’ willingness to take part, studying in the four-year nursing, not having the record of psychological sickness or using the related drugs (all based on their self-utterance).


At the beginning of study, all students completed the demographic information’ questionnaire. The study’s intervening variables were controlled between the two groups [such as age, marital status, work experience, training courses, psychological illness, psychiatric medication use and improving cognitive skills courses (critical thinking, problem- solving, and decision making in the last 6 months)]. Both groups were homogeneous in terms of demographic variables ( P  > 0.05). Decision making and critical thinking skills and social problem solving of participants in 2 groups was evaluated before and 1 month after the intervention.

All questionnaires were anonymous and had an identification code which carefully distributed by the researcher.

To control the transfer of information among the students of two groups, the classification list of students for internships, provided by the head of nursing department at the beginning of semester, was used.

Furthermore, the groups with the odd number of experimental group and the groups with the even number formed the control group and thus were less in contact with each other.

The importance of not transferring information among groups was fully described to the experimental group. They were asked not to provide any information about the course to the students of the control group.

Then, training a course of social problem-solving skills for the experimental group, given in a separate course and the period from the nursing curriculum and was held in 8 sessions during 2 months, using small group discussion, brainstorming, case-based discussion, and reaching the solution in small 4 member groups, taking results of the social problem-solving model as mentioned by D-zurilla and gold fried [ 26 ]. The instructor was an assistant professor of university and had a history of teaching problem-solving courses. This model’ stages are explained in Table  1 .

All training sessions were performed due to the model, and one step of the model was implemented in each session. In each session, the teacher stated the educational objectives and asked the students to share their experiences in dealing to various workplace problems, home and community due to the topic of session. Besides, in each session, a case-based scenario was presented and thoroughly analyzed, and students discussed it.


In this study, the data were collected using demographic variables questionnaire and social problem- solving inventory – revised (SPSI-R) developed by D’zurilla and Nezu (2002) [ 26 ], California critical thinking skills test- form B (CCTST; 1994) [ 27 , 28 ] and decision-making questionnaire.

SPSI-R is a self - reporting tool with 52 questions ranging from a Likert scale (1: Absolutely not – 5: very much).

The minimum score maybe 25 and at a maximum of 125, therefore:

The score 25 and 50: weak social problem-solving skills.

The score 50–75: moderate social problem-solving skills.

The score higher of 75: strong social problem-solving skills.

The reliability assessed by repeated tests is between 0.68 and 0.91, and its alpha coefficient between 0.69 and 0.95 was reported [ 26 ]. The structural validity of questionnaire has also been confirmed. All validity analyses have confirmed SPSI as a social problem - solving scale.

In Iran, the alpha coefficient of 0.85 is measured for five factors, and the retest reliability coefficient was obtained 0.88. All of the narratives analyzes confirmed SPSI as a social problem- solving scale [ 29 ].

California critical thinking skills test- form B(CCTST; 1994): This test is a standard tool for assessing the basic skills of critical thinking at the high school and higher education levels (Facione & Facione, 1992, 1998) [ 27 ].

This tool has 34 multiple-choice questions which assessed analysis, inference, and argument evaluation. Facione and Facione (1993) reported that a KR-20 range of 0.65 to 0.75 for this tool is acceptable [ 27 ].

In Iran, the KR-20 for the total scale was 0.62. This coefficient is acceptable for questionnaires that measure the level of thinking ability of individuals.

After changing the English names of this questionnaire to Persian, its content validity was approved by the Board of Experts.

The subscale analysis of Persian version of CCTST showed a positive high level of correlation between total test score and the components (analysis, r = 0.61; evaluation, r = 0.71; inference, r = 0.88; inductive reasoning, r = 0.73; and deductive reasoning, r = 0.74) [ 28 ].

A decision-making questionnaire with 20 questions was used to measure decision-making skills. This questionnaire was made by a researcher and was prepared under the supervision of a professor with psychometric expertise. Five professors confirmed the face and content validity of this questionnaire. The reliability was obtained at 0.87 which confirmed for 30 students using the test-retest method at a time interval of 2 weeks. Each question had four levels and a score from 0.25 to 1. The minimum score of this questionnaire was 5, and the maximum score was 20 [ 30 ].

Statistical analysis

For analyzing the applied data, the SPSS Version 16, and descriptive statistics tests, independent sample T-test, paired T-test, Pearson correlation coefficient, and square chi were used. The significant level was taken P  < 0.05.

The average age of students was 21.7 ± 1.34, and the academic average total score was 16.32 ± 2.83. Other demographic characteristics are presented in Table  2 .

None of the students had a history of psychiatric illness or psychiatric drug use. Findings obtained from the chi-square test showed that there is not any significant difference between the two groups statistically in terms of demographic variables.

The mean scores in social decision making, critical thinking, and decision-making in whole samples before intervention showed no significant difference between the two groups statistically ( P  > 0.05), but showed a significant difference after the intervention ( P  < 0.05) (Table  3 ).

Scores in Table  4 showed a significant positive difference before and after intervention in the “experimental” group ( P  < 0.05), but this difference was not seen in the control group ( P  > 0.05).

Among the demographic variables, only a positive relationship was seen between marital status and decision-making skills (r = 0.72, P  < 0.05).

Also, the scores of critical thinking skill’ subgroups and social problem solving’ subgroups are presented in Tables  5 and 6 which showed a significant positive difference before and after intervention in the “experimental” group (P < 0.05), but this difference was not seen in the control group ( P  > 0.05).

In the present study conducted by some studies, problem-solving and critical thinking and decision-making scores of nursing students are moderate [ 5 , 24 , 31 ].

The results showed that problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and decision-making in nursing students were promoted through a social problem-solving training course. Unfortunately, no study has examined the effect of teaching social problem-solving skills on nursing students’ critical thinking and decision-making skills.

Altun (2018) believes that if the values of truth and human dignity are promoted in students, it will help them acquire problem-solving skills. Free discussion between students and faculty on value topics can lead to the development of students’ information processing in values. Developing self-awareness increases students’ impartiality and problem-solving ability [ 5 ]. The results of this study are consistent to the results of present study.

Erozkan (2017), in his study, reported there is a significant relationship between social problem solving and social self-efficacy and the sub-dimensions of social problem solving [ 32 ]. In the present study, social problem -solving skills training has improved problem -solving skills and its subdivisions.

The results of study by Moshirabadi (2015) showed that the mean score of total problem-solving skills was 89.52 ± 21.58 and this average was lower in fourth-year students than other students. He explained that education should improve students’ problem-solving skills. Because nursing students with advanced problem-solving skills are vital to today’s evolving society [ 22 ]. In the present study, the results showed students’ weakness in the skills in question, and holding a social problem-solving skills training course could increase the level of these skills.

Çinar (2010) reported midwives and nurses are expected to use problem-solving strategies and effective decision-making in their work, using rich basic knowledge.

These skills should be developed throughout one’s profession. The results of this study showed that academic education could increase problem-solving skills of nursing and midwifery students, and final year students have higher skill levels [ 23 ].

Bayani (2012) reported that the ability to solve social problems has a determining role in mental health. Problem-solving training can lead to a level upgrade of mental health and quality of life [ 33 ]; These results agree with the results obtained in our study.

Conducted by this study, Kocoglu (2016) reported nurses’ understanding of their problem-solving skills is moderate. Receiving advice and support from qualified nursing managers and educators can enhance this skill and positively impact their behavior [ 31 ].

Kashaninia (2015), in her study, reported teaching critical thinking skills can promote critical thinking and the application of rational decision-making styles by nurses.

One of the main components of sound performance in nursing is nurses’ ability to process information and make good decisions; these abilities themselves require critical thinking. Therefore, universities should envisage educational and supportive programs emphasizing critical thinking to cultivate their students’ professional competencies, decision-making, problem-solving, and self-efficacy [ 34 ].

The study results of Kirmizi (2015) also showed a moderate positive relationship between critical thinking and problem-solving skills [ 35 ].

Hong (2015) reported that using continuing PBL training promotes reflection and critical thinking in clinical nurses. Applying brainstorming in PBL increases the motivation to participate collaboratively and encourages teamwork. Learners become familiar with different perspectives on patients’ problems and gain a more comprehensive understanding. Achieving these competencies is the basis of clinical decision-making in nursing. The dynamic and ongoing involvement of clinical staff can bridge the gap between theory and practice [ 36 ].

Ancel (2016) emphasizes that structured and managed problem-solving training can increase students’ confidence in applying problem-solving skills and help them achieve self-confidence. He reported that nursing students want to be taught in more innovative ways than traditional teaching methods which cognitive skills training should be included in their curriculum. To this end, university faculties and lecturers should believe in the importance of strategies used in teaching and the richness of educational content offered to students [ 17 ].

The results of these recent studies are adjusted with the finding of recent research and emphasize the importance of structured teaching cognitive skills to nurses and nursing students.

Based on the results of this study on improving critical thinking and decision-making skills in the intervention group, researchers guess the reasons to achieve the results of study in the following cases:

In nursing internationally, problem-solving skills (PS) have been introduced as a key strategy for better patient care [ 17 ]. Problem-solving can be defined as a self-oriented cognitive-behavioral process used to identify or discover effective solutions to a special problem in everyday life. In particular, the application of this cognitive-behavioral methodology identifies a wide range of possible effective solutions to a particular problem and enhancement the likelihood of selecting the most effective solution from among the various options [ 27 ].

In social problem-solving theory, there is a difference among the concepts of problem-solving and solution implementation, because the concepts of these two processes are different, and in practice, they require different skills.

In the problem-solving process, we seek to find solutions to specific problems, while in the implementation of solution, the process of implementing those solutions in the real problematic situation is considered [ 25 , 26 ].

The use of D’zurilla and Goldfride’s social problem-solving model was effective in achieving the study results because of its theoretical foundations and the usage of the principles of cognitive reinforcement skills. Social problem solving is considered an intellectual, logical, effort-based, and deliberate activity [ 26 , 32 ]; therefore, using this model can also affect other skills that need recognition.

In this study, problem-solving training from case studies and group discussion methods, brainstorming, and activity in small groups, was used.

There are significant educational achievements in using small- group learning strategies. The limited number of learners in each group increases the interaction between learners, instructors, and content. In this way, the teacher will be able to predict activities and apply techniques that will lead students to achieve high cognitive taxonomy levels. That is, confront students with assignments and activities that force them to use cognitive processes such as analysis, reasoning, evaluation, and criticism.

In small groups, students are given the opportunity to the enquiry, discuss differences of opinion, and come up with solutions. This method creates a comprehensive understanding of the subject for the student [ 36 ].

According to the results, social problem solving increases the nurses’ decision-making ability and critical thinking regarding identifying the patient’s needs and choosing the best nursing procedures. According to what was discussed, the implementation of this intervention in larger groups and in different levels of education by teaching other cognitive skills and examining their impact on other cognitive skills of nursing students, in the future, is recommended.

Social problem- solving training by affecting critical thinking skills and decision-making of nursing students increases patient safety. It improves the quality of care because patients’ needs are better identified and analyzed, and the best solutions are adopted to solve the problem.

In the end, the implementation of this intervention in larger groups in different levels of education by teaching other cognitive skills and examining their impact on other cognitive skills of nursing students in the future is recommended.

Study limitations

This study was performed on fourth-year nursing students, but the students of other levels should be studied during a cohort from the beginning to the end of course to monitor the cognitive skills improvement.

The promotion of high-level cognitive skills is one of the main goals of higher education. It is very necessary to adopt appropriate approaches to improve the level of thinking. According to this study results, the teachers and planners are expected to use effective approaches and models such as D’zurilla and Goldfride social problem solving to improve problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making skills. What has been confirmed in this study is that the routine training in the control group should, as it should, has not been able to improve the students’ critical thinking skills, and the traditional educational system needs to be transformed and reviewed to achieve this goal.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and analyzed during the present study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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This article results from research project No. 980 approved by the Research and Technology Department of Shahrekord University of Medical Sciences. We would like to appreciate to all personnel and students of the Borujen Nursing School. The efforts of all those who assisted us throughout this research.

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Community-Oriented Nursing Midwifery Research Center, Shahrekord University of Medical Sciences, Shahrekord, Iran

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SA and SSH conceptualized the study, developed the proposal, coordinated the project, completed initial data entry and analysis, and wrote the report. SSH conducted the statistical analyses. SA and SSH assisted in writing and editing the final report. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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The characteristic that distinguishes a professional nurse is cognitive rather than psychomotor ability. Nursing practice demands that practitioners display sound judgement and decision-making skills as critical thinking and clinical decision making is an essential component of nursing practice. Nurses’ ability to recognize and respond to signs of patient deterioration in a timely manner plays a pivotal role in patient outcomes (Purling & King 2012). Errors in clinical judgement and decision making are said to account for more than half of adverse clinical events (Tomlinson, 2015). The focus of the nurse clinical judgement has to be on quality evidence based care delivery, therefore, observational and reasoning skills will result in sound, reliable, clinical judgements. Clinical judgement, a concept which is critical to the nursing can be complex, because the nurse is required to use observation skills, identify relevant information, to identify the relationships among given elements through reasoning and judgement. Clinical reasoning is the process by which nurses observe patients status, process the information, come to an understanding of the patient problem, plan and implement interventions, evaluate outcomes, with reflection and learning from the process (Levett-Jones et al, 2010). At all times, nurses are responsible for their actions and are accountable for nursing judgment and action or inaction.

The speed and ability by which the nurses make sound clinical judgement is affected by their experience. Novice nurses may find this process difficult, whereas the experienced nurse should rely on her intuition, followed by fast action. Therefore education must begin at the undergraduate level to develop students’ critical thinking and clinical reasoning skills. Clinical reasoning is a learnt skill requiring determination and active engagement in deliberate practice design to improve performance. In order to acquire such skills, students need to develop critical thinking ability, as well as an understanding of how judgements and decisions are reached in complex healthcare environments.

As lifelong learners, nurses are constantly accumulating more knowledge, expertise, and experience, and it’s a rare nurse indeed who chooses to not apply his or her mind towards the goal of constant learning and professional growth. Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on the Future of Nursing, stated, that nurses must continue their education and engage in lifelong learning to gain the needed competencies for practice. American Nurses Association (ANA), Scope and Standards of Practice requires a nurse to remain involved in continuous learning and strengthening individual practice (p.26)

Alfaro-LeFevre, R. (2009). Critical thinking and clinical judgement: A practical approach to outcome-focused thinking. (4th ed.). St Louis: Elsevier

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nursing critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking definition

nursing critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking, as described by Oxford Languages, is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.

Active and skillful approach, evaluation, assessment, synthesis, and/or evaluation of information obtained from, or made by, observation, knowledge, reflection, acumen or conversation, as a guide to belief and action, requires the critical thinking process, which is why it's often used in education and academics.

Some even may view it as a backbone of modern thought.

However, it's a skill, and skills must be trained and encouraged to be used at its full potential.

People turn up to various approaches in improving their critical thinking, like:

  • Developing technical and problem-solving skills
  • Engaging in more active listening
  • Actively questioning their assumptions and beliefs
  • Seeking out more diversity of thought
  • Opening up their curiosity in an intellectual way etc.

Is critical thinking useful in writing?

Critical thinking can help in planning your paper and making it more concise, but it's not obvious at first. We carefully pinpointed some the questions you should ask yourself when boosting critical thinking in writing:

  • What information should be included?
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  • What degree of technical knowledge should the report assume its audience has?
  • What is the most effective way to show information?
  • How should the report be organized?
  • How should it be designed?
  • What tone and level of language difficulty should the document have?

Usage of critical thinking comes down not only to the outline of your paper, it also begs the question: How can we use critical thinking solving problems in our writing's topic?

Let's say, you have a Powerpoint on how critical thinking can reduce poverty in the United States. You'll primarily have to define critical thinking for the viewers, as well as use a lot of critical thinking questions and synonyms to get them to be familiar with your methods and start the thinking process behind it.

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We understand that it's difficult to learn how to use critical thinking more effectively in just one article, but our service is here to help.

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Nursing students' perceptions of nursing diagnoses, critical thinking motivations, and problem-solving skills during distance learning: A multicentral study


  • 1 Faculty of Health Sciences, Fundamentals of Nursing Department, Karadeniz Technical University, Trabzon, Turkey.
  • 2 Faculty of Health Sciences, Fundamentals of Nursing Department, Ordu University, Ordu, Turkey.
  • 3 Nursing Faculty, Department of Fundamentals of Nursing, Istanbul University, İstanbul Üniversitesi Merkez Kampüsü Beyazıt/Fatih-İstanbul, Istanbul, Turkey.
  • 4 Faculty of Health Sciences, Nursing Department, Bandırma Onyedi Eylul University, Balıkesir, Turkey.
  • 5 Faculty of Health Sciences, Fundemantals of Nursing and Nursing Management, Karabuk University, Karabuk, Turkey.
  • PMID: 35244349
  • DOI: 10.1111/2047-3095.12362

Purpose: To determine the relationship between attitude towards nursing diagnosis, critical thinking motivation, and problem-solving skills of nursing students during distance learning.

Method: The descriptive and correlational study was conducted with 450 first-year nursing students from four universities. The "Positions on Nursing Diagnosis Scale," "Critical Thinking Motivational Scale," and "Problem Solving Inventory" were used for data collection in June-July 2021.

Findings: The students' mean score of nursing diagnosis perception was 114.90 ± 18.47, the score for expectancy main subdimension of critical thinking motivation was 4.17 ± 1.16 and the score for value main subdimension was 4.81 ± 1.12, and score for problem-solving skills was 90.65 ± 19.03. A statistically significant positive correlation was found between nursing diagnosis perception and subdimension of critical thinking motivation scores (p < 0.001) and problem-solving skills score (p < 0.001). The linear regression model established to examine the effect of other scales on nursing diagnosis perception was found to be statistically significant (F = 17.516, p < 0.001). As the expectancy score increases by one unit, the perception of nursing diagnosis score increases 3.452 times (p = 0.001), the cost score increases by one unit, the perception of nursing diagnosis score increases by 3.894 (p = 0.001), and the problemsolving skills score increases by one unit, the perception of nursing diagnosis score decreases by 0.246 (p < 0.001).

Conclusions: To conclude that nursing diagnosis perception, critical thinking motivation, and problem-solving skills of nursing students were high and have a relationship with each other during distance education. As nursing diagnosis perception scores of students increase, their critical thinking motivation and problem-solving skills also increase.

Implications for nursing practice: The high skills of critical thinking and problem solving have an important place effectively to identify the nursing diagnosis more quickly and easily in the nursing care process.

Keywords: critical thinking motivation; distance learning; nursing diagnosis; nursing student; perception of nursing student; problem solving.

© 2022 NANDA International, Inc.

  • Education, Distance*
  • Education, Nursing, Baccalaureate*
  • Nursing Diagnosis
  • Problem-Based Learning
  • Students, Nursing*

Enhancing problem-based learning with computational thinking concepts for nursing students in virtual simulation context: Bridging knowledge and practice

  • Published: 19 April 2024

Cite this article

nursing critical thinking and problem solving

  • Pei-Hsuan Lin 1 ,
  • Po-Sen Huang 2 ,
  • Ying Geng 3 &
  • Yueh-Min Huang 4  

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Novice nurses often report a disconnect between textbook knowledge and realworld practice which damages their confidence in providing clinical care to patients. Nursing students indeed encounter numerous challenges in clinical environments such as inadequate resources and a gap between learning theory and clinical practice. To close the academic-practice gap and to ensure nursing students are equipped with sufficient clinical skills to perform tasks in their future career, virtual simulation can be used for students to experience clinical cases. In addition to the virtual simulation environment itself, appropriate pedagogies are also needed for them to explore simulated clinical tasks and apply what they have learned. Problem-based learning (PBL) is one pedagogy well-suited to this purpose. To increase the effectiveness of PBL in fostering student nurses’ self-efficacy and problem-solving skills, this study proposes integrating computational thinking (CT) into PBL in concert with the virtual dissection table, as CT is viewed as a problem-solving skill. Informed by CT, nursing students organize and synthesize the acquired knowledge, applying it to solve clinical problems and provide nursing care in clinical practice more effectively with the skills developed. The results reveal no significant differences in learning achievement, but both problem solving skills and confidence increase for students empowered by CT concepts.

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This research is partially supported by the National Science and Technology Council, Taiwan, R.O.C. under Grant no. NSTC 110-2511-H-006 -008 -MY3 and NSTC1122410-H-025 -047.

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Teaching Strategies for Developing Clinical Reasoning Skills in Nursing Students: A Systematic Review of Randomised Controlled Trials

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Background: Clinical reasoning (CR) is a holistic and recursive cognitive process. It allows nursing students to accurately perceive patients’ situations and choose the best course of action among the available alternatives. This study aimed to identify the randomised controlled trials studies in the literature that concern clinical reasoning in the context of nursing students. Methods: A comprehensive search of PubMed, Scopus, Embase, and the Cochrane Controlled Register of Trials (CENTRAL) was performed to identify relevant studies published up to October 2023. The following inclusion criteria were examined: (a) clinical reasoning, clinical judgment, and critical thinking in nursing students as a primary study aim; (b) articles published for the last eleven years; (c) research conducted between January 2012 and September 2023; (d) articles published only in English and Spanish; and (e) Randomised Clinical Trials. The Critical Appraisal Skills Programme tool was utilised to appraise all included studies. Results: Fifteen papers were analysed. Based on the teaching strategies used in the articles, two groups have been identified: simulation methods and learning programs. The studies focus on comparing different teaching methodologies. Conclusions: This systematic review has detected different approaches to help nursing students improve their reasoning and decision-making skills. The use of mobile apps, digital simulations, and learning games has a positive impact on the clinical reasoning abilities of nursing students and their motivation. Incorporating new technologies into problem-solving-based learning and decision-making can also enhance nursing students’ reasoning skills. Nursing schools should evaluate their current methods and consider integrating or modifying new technologies and methodologies that can help enhance students’ learning and improve their clinical reasoning and cognitive skills.

1. Introduction

Clinical reasoning (CR) is a holistic cognitive process. It allows nursing students to accurately perceive patients’ situations and choose the best course of action among the available alternatives. This process is consistent, dynamic, and flexible, and it helps nursing students gain awareness and put their learning into perspective [ 1 ]. CR is an essential competence for nurses’ professional practice. It is considered crucial that its development begin during basic training [ 2 ]. Analysing clinical data, determining priorities, developing plans, and interpreting results are primary skills in clinical reasoning during clinical nursing practise [ 3 ]. To develop these skills, nursing students must participate in caring for patients and working in teams during clinical experiences. Among clinical reasoning skills, we can identify communication skills as necessary for connecting with patients, conducting health interviews, engaging in shared decision-making, eliciting patients’ concerns and expectations, discussing clinical cases with colleagues and supervisors, and explaining one’s reasoning to others [ 4 ].

Educating students in nursing practise to ensure high-quality learning and safe clinical practise is a constant challenge [ 5 ]. Facilitating the development of reasoning is challenging for educators due to its complexity and multifaceted nature [ 6 ], but it is necessary because clinical reasoning must be embedded throughout the nursing curriculum [ 7 ]. Such being the case, the development of clinical reasoning is encouraged, aiming to promote better performance in indispensable skills, decision-making, quality, and safety when assisting patients [ 8 ].

Nursing education is targeted at recognising clinical signs and symptoms, accurately assessing the patient, appropriately intervening, and evaluating the effectiveness of interventions. All these clinical processes require clinical reasoning, and it takes time to develop [ 9 ]. This is a significant goal of nursing education [ 10 ] in contemporary teaching and learning approaches [ 6 ].

Strategies to mitigate errors, promote knowledge acquisition, and develop clinical reasoning should be adopted in the training of health professionals. According to the literature, different methods and teaching strategies can be applied during nursing training, as well as traditional teaching through lectures. However, the literature explains that this type of methodology cannot enhance students’ clinical reasoning alone. Therefore, nursing educators are tasked with looking for other methodologies that improve students’ clinical reasoning [ 11 ], such as clinical simulation. Clinical simulation offers a secure and controlled setting to encounter and contemplate clinical scenarios, establish relationships, gather information, and exercise autonomy in decision-making and problem-solving [ 12 ]. Different teaching strategies have been developed in clinical simulation, like games or case studies. Research indicates a positive correlation between the use of simulation to improve learning outcomes and how it positively influences the development of students’ clinical reasoning skills [ 13 ].

The students of the 21st century utilise information and communication technologies. With their technological skills, organisations can enhance their productivity and achieve their goals more efficiently. Serious games are simulations that use technology to provide nursing students with a safe and realistic environment to practise clinical reasoning and decision-making skills [ 14 ] and can foster the development of clinical reasoning through an engaging and motivating experience [ 15 ].

New graduate nurses must possess the reasoning skills required to handle complex patient situations. Aware that there are different teaching methodologies, with this systematic review we intend to discover which RCTs published focus on CR in nursing students, which interventions have been developed, and their effectiveness, both at the level of knowledge and in increasing clinical reasoning skills. By identifying the different techniques used during the interventions with nursing students in recent years and their effectiveness, it will help universities decide which type of methodology to implement to improve the reasoning skills of nursing students and, therefore, obtain better healthcare results.

This study aims to identify and analyse randomised controlled trials concerning clinical reasoning in nursing students. The following questions guide this literature review:

Which randomised controlled trials have been conducted in the last eleven years regarding nursing students’ clinical reasoning? What are the purposes of the identified RCTs? Which teaching methodologies or strategies were used in the RCTs studies? What were the outcomes of the teaching strategies used in the RCTs?

2. Materials and Methods

This review follows the PRISMA 2020 model statement for systematic reviews. That comprises three documents: the 27-item checklist, the PRISMA 2020 abstract checklist, and the revised flow diagram [ 16 ].

2.1. Search Strategy

A systematic literature review was conducted on PubMed, Scopus, Embase, and the Cochrane Controlled Register of Trials (CENTRAL) up to 15th October 2023.

The PICOS methodology guided the bibliographic search [ 17 ]: “P” being the population (nursing students), “I” the intervention (clinical reasoning), “C” comparison (traditional teaching), “O” outcome (dimension, context, and attributes of clinical reasoning in the students’ competences and the results of the teaching method on nursing students), and “S” study type (RCTs).

The search strategy used in each database was the following: (“nursing students” OR “nursing students” OR “pupil nurses” OR “undergraduate nursing”) AND (“clinical reasoning” OR “critical thinking” OR “clinical judgment”). The filters applied were full text, randomised controlled trial, English, Spanish, and from 1 January 2012 to 15 October 2023. The search strategy was performed using the same process for each database. APP performed the search, and AZ supervised the process.

During the search, the terms clinical reasoning, critical thinking, and clinical judgement were used interchangeably since clinical judgement is part of clinical reasoning and is defined by the decision to act. It is influenced by an individual’s previous experiences and clinical reasoning skills [ 18 ]. Critical thinking and clinical judgement involve reflective and logical thinking skills and play a vital role in the decision-making and problem-solving processes [ 19 ].

The first search was conducted between March and September 2022, and an additional search was conducted during October 2023, adding the new articles published between September 2022 and September 2023, following the same strategy. The search strategy was developed using words from article titles, abstracts, and index terms. Parallel to this process, the PRISMA protocol was used to systematise the collection of all the information presented in each selected article. This systematic review protocol was registered in the international register PROSPERO: CRD42022372240.

2.2. Eligibility Criteria and Study Selection

The following inclusion criteria were examined: (a) clinical reasoning, clinical judgment, and critical thinking in nursing students as a primary aim; (b) articles published in the last eleven years; (c) research conducted between January 2012 and September 2023; (d) articles published only in English and Spanish; and (e) RCTs. On the other hand, the exclusion criteria were studies conducted with students from other disciplines other than nursing, not random studies or review articles.

2.3. Data Collection and Extraction

After this study selection, the following information was extracted from each article: bibliographic information, study aims, teaching methodology, sample size and characteristics, time of intervention, and conclusions.

2.4. Risk of Bias

The two reviewers, APP and AZ, worked independently to minimise bias and mistakes. The titles and abstracts of all papers were screened for inclusion. All potential articles underwent a two-stage screening process based on the inclusion criteria. All citations were screened based on title, abstract, and text. Reviewers discussed the results to resolve minor discrepancies. All uncertain citations were included for full-text review. The full text of each included citation was obtained. Each study was read thoroughly and assessed for inclusion following the inclusion and exclusion criteria explained in the methodology. The CASP tool was utilised to appraise all included studies. The CASP Randomized Controlled Trial Standard Checklist is an 11-question checklist [ 20 ], and the components assessed included the appropriateness of the objective and aims, methodology, study design, sampling method, data collection, reflexivity of the researchers, ethical considerations, data analysis, rigour of findings, and significance of this research. These items of the studies were then rated (“Yes” = with three points; “Cannot tell” = with two points; “No” = with one point). The possible rates for every article were between 0 and 39 points.

2.5. Ethical Considerations

Since this study was a comprehensive, systematic review of the existing published literature, there was no need for us to seek ethical approval.

3.1. Search Results

The initial search identified 158 articles using the above-mentioned strategy (SCOPUS ® n = 72, PUBMED ® n = 56, CENTRAL ® n = 23, and EMBASE ® n= 7), and the results are presented in Figure 1 . After retrieving the articles and excluding 111, 47 were selected for a full reading. Finally, 17 articles were selected. To comply with the methodology, the independent reviewers analysed all the selected articles one more time after the additional search, and they agreed to eliminate two of them because this study sample included nursing students as well as professional nurses. Therefore, to have a clear outcome focused on nursing students, two articles were removed, and the very final sample size was fifteen articles, following the established selection criteria ( Figure 1 ). The reasons for excluding studies from the systematic review were: nurses as targets; other design types of studies different from RCTs; focusing on other health professionals such as medical students; review studies; and being published in full text in other languages other than Spanish or English.

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Flowchart of screening of clinical reasoning RCTs that underwent review.

3.2. Risk of Bias in CASP Results

All studies included in the review were screened with the CASP tool. Each study was scored out of a maximum of 39 points, showing the high quality of the randomised control trial methodology. The studies included had an average score of 33.1, ranging from 30 to 36 points. In addition, this quantitative rate of the items based on CASP, there were 13 studies that missed an item in relation to assessing/analysing outcome/s ‘blinded or not’ or not, and 11 studies that missed the item whether the benefits of the experimental intervention outweigh the harms and costs.

3.3. Data Extraction

Once the articles had undergone a full reading and the inclusion criteria were applied, data extraction was performed with a data extraction table ( Appendix A ). Their contents were summarised into six different cells: (1) CASP total points result, (2) purpose of this study, (3) teaching strategy, (4) time of intervention, (5) sample size, and (6) author and year of publication. After the review by the article’s readers, fifteen RCTs were selected. Of the fifteen, the continent with the highest number of studies was Asia, with 53.33% of the studies (n = 8) (Korea n = 4, Taiwan n = 2, and China n = 2), followed by Europe with 26.66% (n = 4) (Turkey n = 2, Paris n = 1, and Norway n = 1), and lastly South America with 20% (n = 3), all of them from Brazil.

3.4. Teaching Strategies

Different teaching strategies have been identified in the reviewed studies: simulation methods (seven articles) and learning programmes (eight articles). There are also two studies that focus on comparing different teaching methodologies.

3.4.1. Clinical Simulation

The simulation methods focused on in the studies were virtual simulation (based on mobile applications), simulation games, and high-fidelity clinical simulation. Of the total number of nursing students in the studies referring to clinical simulations, 43.85% were in their second year, while 57.1% were senior-year students. The most used method in the clinical simulation group was virtual simulation, and 57.14% of studies included only one-day teaching interventions.

Virtual simulations were used to increase knowledge about medication administration and nasotracheal suctioning in different scenarios [ 21 ], to evaluate the effect of interactive nursing skills, knowledge, and self-efficacy [ 11 ], and to detect patient deterioration in two different cases [ 22 ]. Simulation game methodology was used to improve nursing students’ cognitive and attention skills, strengthen judgment, time management, and decision-making [ 14 ].

Clinical simulation was used to develop nursing students’ clinical reasoning in evaluating wounds and their treatments [ 12 ], to evaluate and compare the perception of stressors, with the goal of determining whether simulations promote students’ self-evaluation and critical-thinking skills [ 23 ], and also to evaluate the impact of multiple simulations on students’ self-reported clinical decision-making skills and self-confidence [ 24 ].

3.4.2. Learning Programs

Different types of learning programmes have been identified in this systematic review: team-based learning, reflective training programs, person-centred educational programmes, ethical reasoning programmes, case-based learning, mapping, training problem-solving skills, and self-instructional guides. Of the total number of nursing students in the studies referring to learning programs, 57.1% were junior-year students, while 43.85% were in their senior year.

Team-based learning is a learner-centred educational strategy that promotes active learning to improve students’ problem-solving, knowledge, and practise performance. It can be implemented in small or large groups divided into teams with an instructor and reading material based on case scenarios [ 25 ]. Reflective training is based on a new mentoring practise to explore, think about, and solve problems actively during an internship. During the reflective training program, the mentors lead students to uncover clinical nursing problems through conversations with them and discussing feedback for their professional portfolios [ 26 ]. The person-centred educational programme focuses on how nursing students perceive individualised care, using design thinking to improve their perception. The use of design thinking gave the students opportunities to apply their theoretical knowledge of the person-centred program to plan innovative solutions that may effectively resolve real-life situations [ 27 ]. Another educational programme identified is the ethical reasoning program, and the aim of this is to improve nursing students’ handling of ethical decision-making situations [ 28 ], engaging the students in complex ethical clinical situations based on real cases.

Case-based learning was used to explore and demonstrate the feasibility of implementing unfolding cases in lectures to develop students’ critical-thinking abilities [ 29 ]. The web-based concept mapping of nursing students was also investigated to determine its impact on critical-thinking skills [ 30 ]. Training problem-solving skills were used to find out how it affected the rate of self-handicapping among nursing students [ 31 ]. And the last article evaluated the effect of the self-instructional guide to improve clinical reasoning skills on diagnostic accuracy in undergraduate nursing students [ 32 ].

4. Discussion

Although 158 studies were initially identified, only 15 articles were finally included in this review. The excluded articles were mainly from other disciplines other than nursing and used a less rigorous study design than RCT.

The three longest interventions were developed in Asia [ 26 , 28 , 29 ]. The longest was 300 h in duration, through one year [ 30 ]. These interventions were based on learning programs, case-based learning, person-centred care (PCC), and reflective training programs. However, it is important to take into account that Asian nursing curriculum programmes are different from European or United States curriculum because their internship is carried out only during the last academic degree year, while in Europe, following the European directive 2005/36/CE, 2013/55/UE nursing education requirements of 4600 h (2300 h of clinical practice) is carried out along the 3–4 years of the academic degree [ 33 ]. On the other hand, the intervention with the biggest sample was 419 nursing students [ 30 ], 210 in the experimental group, and 209 in the control group, and the one with the lowest sample was 51, with 24 students in the control group and 27 in the intervention group [ 32 ]. Therefore, all the included studies had a good sample size.

This systematic review has detected different methodologies to help nursing students improve their reasoning and decision-making skills. Virtual simulation was the most frequently used teaching method, both as a mobile application and as a serious game. In terms of its effectiveness in a study carried out in Taiwan, the use of a mobile application resulted in significantly higher knowledge scores, better skill performance, and higher satisfaction in students than traditional paper materials [ 21 ]. Virtual simulation [ 11 , 14 , 21 ] has also proven to be an effective tool for enhancing knowledge and confidence in recognising and responding to rapidly deteriorating patients, but studies that combined two educational strategies were more effective [ 29 ], like clinical simulation combined with another teaching strategy such as lectures or videos [ 12 ].

An interactive learner-centred nursing education mobile application with systematic contents effectively allowed students to experience positive practical nursing skills [ 11 ]. However, in a study comparing serious game simulation versus traditional teaching methods, no significant difference was found immediately or in the month following the training [ 22 ], but serious games can improve nursing students’ cognitive skills to detect patient deterioration and to make safe decisions about patient care [ 14 ]. Although the innovative teaching method was well received by the students, who expressed higher levels of satisfaction and motivation [ 22 ]. We can affirm that the development of a mobile application and its application can be effectively used by nursing students at all levels [ 11 ]. However, the performance of all these studies was measured on its short-term outcomes, only 40 min [ 21 ], 2 h [ 22 ], and 1 week [ 11 , 14 ] of intervention, and was performed with a mean sample size of 97 nursing students.

The data obtained in a study developed in Brazil [ 12 ] confirm that clinical simulation is effective for the development of nursing students’ clinical reasoning in wound evaluation and treatment and that clinical simulation in conjunction with other educational methods promotes the acquisition of knowledge by facilitating the transition from what the student knows to rational action. Moreover, the high-fidelity simulation strategy increases the perception of stressors related to a lack of competence and interpersonal relationships with patients, multidisciplinary teams, and colleagues compared with the conventional practice class in the skill laboratory. This increase was related to the students’ capacity for self-evaluation and critical reflection, concerning their learning responsibility and the need to acquire the required skills for patient care [ 23 ]. However, in the case of the effect of multiple simulations on students, there are no differences found between the double-versus single-scenario simulations [ 24 ]. The intervention time in these three studies was 30 min [ 23 ], 3.5 h [ 12 ], and 4 days [ 24 ]; then the time used to implement the intervention can determine the results obtained.

The different learning methods have an impact on various learning outcomes and students’ variables. Team-based learning [ 25 ], reflective training [ 26 ], the person-centred education programme [ 27 ], web-based concept mapping [ 30 ], and teaching cognitive-behavioural approaches [ 31 ] have proven to be effective in enhancing problem-solving abilities, knowledge, and reasoning processes and consequently improving the quality of nursing practical education. Team-based learning increased problem-solving ability scores significantly, while those in the control group decreased [ 25 ]. Reflective training, developed in China based on the new mentoring approach, was effective in encouraging nursing students to explore, think about, and solve problems actively during an internship, consequently improving their disposition for critical thinking [ 26 ]. A person-centred education programme using design thinking can effectively improve how nursing students perceive individualised care. Using design thinking allowed the students to apply their theoretical knowledge of the programme to plan innovative solutions that may effectively resolve real health problems [ 27 ]. These programmes were developed in 5 or 6 days [ 27 , 31 ], 1 week or 3 weeks [ 25 , 30 ], and 1 year [ 26 ].

The education programme focused on improving ethical decision-making had statistically significant improvements in nursing students’ self-efficacy in communication confidence, complex ethical decision-making skills, and decreased communication difficulty [ 28 ]. Case-based learning was more effective with lectures than without them in developing students’ critical thinking abilities [ 29 ]. This study was one of the longest developed with 300 h during one school year. This long-term learning intervention could have a positive impact on this study sample. Therefore, the time of the learning intervention could be a limitation in the studied RCTs. The one-time self-instruction guide was ineffective in impacting students’ diagnostic accuracy in solving case studies [ 32 ], and it is possible that only one day of intervention is not enough.

Studies have shown that problem- and team-based learning [ 25 , 31 ] are more beneficial than traditional teaching [ 29 ], as they enhance nursing skills and improve problem-solving abilities, clinical performance, communication competencies, critical thinking, and self-leadership.

Researchers generally agree that clinical reasoning is an important ability and one of the most important competencies for good nursing practise to ensure optimal patient outcomes [ 29 ] and to recognise and address patient deterioration effectively. However, effective communication is crucial in clinical reasoning. It is required to establish a rapport with patients, conduct health evaluations, make collaborative decisions, and discuss clinical cases with colleagues and supervisors. Developing clinical reasoning skills during training is essential to improving nursing professionals’ practice. To enhance clinical reasoning abilities, nursing schools should integrate simulations at every level of education to ultimately improve patient care. Improving nursing students’ preparation will impact the quality of patient care. In addition, new innovative teaching methodologies based on the use of technology could be a motivational driver in nursing clinical reasoning [ 22 ].

5. Limitations

This systematic review did not perform a search on CINAHL. Although most of the journals included in this database are included in MEDLINE, this should be addressed in the future because of the relevance of the database to nursing research. The results of the included studies could have also been influenced by the different times of the interventions and the different contexts. In addition, the reviewers have identified other studies published in languages other than those required by the inclusion criteria. It seems that many articles are published by Asian researchers, but some of them are not in English, so they cannot be analysed.

6. Conclusions

As society progresses, the new generation of nursing students poses a challenge; new technologies are ingrained in their daily lives with access to increasingly advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, and we must adapt training to capture their interest and increase their learning skills. The utilisation of mobile apps, digital simulations, and learning games has a positive impact on the clinical reasoning abilities of nursing students and their motivation. Incorporating new technologies into problem-solving-based learning and decision-making can also enhance nursing students’ reasoning skills. As a result, it is crucial to incorporate these tools into the learning process to maintain students’ interest, motivation, and satisfaction in education. Clinical simulation is particularly important in the training of students in terms of clinical performance. Still, it is necessary to add another teaching method to increase the efficacy of clinical simulations. Therefore, nursing schools should evaluate their current teaching methods and consider integrating or modifying new technologies and methodologies that can help enhance students’ learning, improve their clinical reasoning and cognitive skills, and potentially improve nursing students’ ability to affect patient care positively. By doing so, students will be better equipped to provide high-quality patient care in the future.

Funding Statement

This research received external funding from the European programme Eramus +2021-1-BE02-KA220-HED-000023194.

Author Contributions

Conceptualisation, A.P.-P. and A.Z.; methodology, A.P.-P. and A.Z.; formal analysis, A.P.-P.; writing—original draft preparation, A.P.-P.; writing—review and editing, A.Z.; visualisation, A.Z.; supervision, A.Z. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Data availability statement, conflicts of interest.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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