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Thinking critically about clinical care

Critical thinking in the health workplace is essential to the delivery of safe, effective patient care. Critical thinking is a purposeful, analytic process that results in reasoned decisions and judgments. It is an essential component of nursing since a nurse is often confronted with complex situations which demand accurate judgments and competent decision-making. Thus, critical thinking involves a well conscientious thinking process where judgments and clinical decisions are based on reasoning, evidence, critique and the examination of one’s own thoughts to help strengthen thinking skills and reach better outcomes.

In health care there are many different situations which will require the application of critical thinking strategies, however basic principles include:

  • collecting information to consider as many relevant factors as possible
  • validating the information presented to make sure that it is accurate and that it is based on fact and evidence
  • analysing the information to determine what it means and to see whether it forms clusters or patterns that point to certain conclusions
  • drawing on past clinical experience and knowledge to explain what is happening and to anticipate what might happen next
  • identifying possible solutions/strategies and examining each in terms of its advantages and disadvantages, evidence base etc..
  • choosing the best solution, implementing the solution and evaluating the outcomes.

Critical thinking is a learned skill which takes commitment and practice. However, critical thinking skills are valuable skills for everyday life as well as professional practice. So, don’t just acquire the skills. Value them and get into the habit of using the skills whenever appropriate - in short, become a critical thinker!

Thinking Critically (Video 27)

Thinking points

For Students

Use this video as a trigger for group discussion and/or personal reflection on the process of thinking critically about clinical care.

As you watch the video some key points to think about are:

  • analysing data to understand what it means, eg. identify a problem/issue
  • using your knowledge and experience to understand what might happen if the situation continues
  • thinking of possible solutions/actions, and their rationales and supporting evidence
  • deciding which alternative represents the best course of action in the particular situation.

For clinical staff

Use this video as a trigger for discussion with your colleagues and/or personal reflection on the process of helping students develop their critical thinking skills for care delivery in the health workplace.

Key points to reflect on include:

  • critical thinking is a high level cognitive skill with which we become more skilled over time
  • being aware of the power of positive role modelling for students
  • the importance of higher level questions to promote critical thinking
  • listening carefully to ‘see’ where students� thinking is going, and guiding them towards the most appropriate outcome
  • being aware of your own critical thinking processes, how you apply theory to practice and use evidence to support clinical decision making
  • the effect of factors such as context, prior experience etc. on student anxiety and performance.