Why is clinical reasoning so important when treating complex health issues?


Student nurses will learn a wide range of skills and techniques in their training. One of the most important skills they’ll develop, both pre- and post-graduation, is clinical reasoning. It’s a vital tool that helps nurses and practitioners get to the bottom of complex and often very serious conditions.

Of course, one case will differ from the next, meaning it’s always a good idea to look at the bigger picture from patient to patient. But what exactly is clinical reasoning, and why is it so important for nurses working with challenging caseloads?

What is clinical reasoning?

Clinical reasoning is the process nurses and practitioners follow to gather information on patient cases, interpret that information, and apply the knowledge they’ve retained from education and working on previous cases. Clinical reasoning ensures nurses apply medical knowledge from a critical perspective, regardless of the patients being cared for and the tools or support needed.

A nurse applying clinical reasoning to a patient’s case will look closely at their records and previous medication to get a clearer idea of their overall health. Thinking clinically is, ultimately, the process of making objective decisions based on one’s treatment knowledge, experience in working in healthcare, and data pulled from patient records.

Communicating openly with patients, and without judgment, is also a cornerstone of this practice. Nurses must practice active listening to ensure they gain all the information they need about a case to confidently support their patients.

How do you learn clinical reasoning?

Clinical reasoning isn’t something that’s taught as-is, rather, nursing students will build up the ability to look at cases objectively and critically through years of experience and education. For example, a student nurse will start to develop clinical reasoning skills while studying for a post master’s FNP certificate online at bodies such as the American International College. The AIC provides students with the tools to develop their own clinical thinking patterns while learning more about how to efficiently treat patients and how hospital and surgery infrastructures work in practice.

Clinical reasoning is much like critical thinking in that it is an unclouded judgment that will build up over time. Even those nurses who graduate and have spent years working in hospitals will still develop their clinical thinking aptitudes long into their working lives.

How can clinical reasoning support complex healthcare?

Without clinical reasoning practice, many patients wouldn’t receive the standard of care and support they need. Alongside developing cultural awareness in healthcare, reasoning skills are vital in the fair and objective treatment of all patients who need nursing support. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why and offer a handful of examples to illustrate our points better.

Nurses continue to develop clinical reasoning skills

As mentioned, it’s likely most nurses continue to develop skills and techniques long after they graduate and join the workforce. Therefore, it’s reasonable to expect patients to receive more competent and clinically reasoned care as said nurses develop. The more experience a nurse gains, the more capable they will be at thinking logically about a patient’s condition, what to look for in care precedents and previous illnesses, and who to work with for the best possible outcomes.

Complex conditions require the insight of multiple healthcare providers, which means there is little to no room for nurses to fall back on subjectivity. They must continue developing clinical reasoning skills so that they can seek remedies efficiently and effectively. This comes naturally—while nurses will learn more than the basics during their education, working in teams in hospital wards and clinics will help them practice objective thinking and become more confident over time.

That, ultimately, will always be beneficial for the patients they treat.

Judgment remains unclouded

Working with complex and potentially life-threatening cases means nurses have to think on their feet, and without any bias or judgment. As such, they must be ready to apply critical thinking and clinical knowledge in equal measure to get to the bottom of a problem. Nurses must remove clouds of judgment so that they can stay focused on the tasks at hand.

It is not always easy to practice on one’s own, which is why it’s beneficial to practice clinical reasoning with others in a team. Nurses rely on each other to provide alternative, unbiased insight into cases and will expect the same from specialists they refer to, such as radiographers and oncologists.

Unclouded judgment helps nurses find resolutions to complex issues faster, therefore ensuring their patients feel better sooner—with lives saved in many cases, too.

Ethics and values are upheld

Ethical practice within nursing and healthcare is extremely important. It’s unethical, for example, to refuse to treat a patient on the basis of personal values, while it’s just as unethical to avoid helping those who are resistant to communication. By avoiding letting emotions and personal feelings get in the way of treatment, nurses can help patients recover faster from illness, and answers to complex questions are easier to source.

Clinical reasoning isn’t just helpful in finding solutions to complex problems but is also vital in supporting a healthy, ethical attitude to breaking down challenges. Ethical codes exist to protect patients and ensure nurses can provide unbiased care, leading to more positive care outcomes overall.

Clinical reasoning is a cornerstone of modern nursing

Nurses have to think fast and accurately when approaching complex cases. That means they need to develop a mindset and an evaluation practice that helps them break down and not let personal issues get in the way.

Clinical reasoning allows nurses and other health professionals to look at the bigger picture, focusing on key questions such as – what’s the problem a patient is facing, what’s the potential outcome, and how healthy are they right now? Cases will vary in complexity and severity, but this method of thinking is highly effective in ensuring better outcomes for all.

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