Critical Thinking Activities in Nursing Programs

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Today, it's necessary for nurses to function as an extension of high-level care providers. Read this lesson to learn how Certified Nurse Educators help student nurses develop critical thinking skills to take better care of their patients.

Training the Future Healthcare Workforce

Certified Nurse Educators are tasked with developing ways to engage their students to think strategically and manage challenging patient assignments. Certified Nursing Educators (CNEs) function as expert nursing educators that are especially passionate about advancing the practice of the nursing profession, and have taken a national exam certifying their high level of knowledge and investment in the specialty of education.

CNEs may work with students in academic settings in colleges and universities. Nurse educators are considered valuable resources for fellow faculty members to build a strong nursing program and for the development of nursing students into confident and competent graduates. CNEs are well-respected by colleagues and students for their comprehensive teaching strategies and abilities to incorporate critical thinking activities into academic curriculum.

Practicing the Concept: Example Activities

About halfway through nursing school, students are exposed to simulated environments to apply theory by practicing skills. CNEs can promote critical thinking through the development and facilitation of engaging activities.

Simulated Patient Cases

Cheryl, a CNE, introduced simulation (mock situations that model real scenarios) to her fellow instructors, explaining that simulation is used to practice a variety of skills and allows students to demonstrate their progress. Her fellow instructors began creating simulated patient cases to help students develop critical thinking in the following domains:

  • Physical, hands-on skills: medication administration, dressing changes, and assessments
  • Communication techniques: practicing active listening, coaching, and teaching skills

Now that her team has developed a variety of simulated patient cases, she explains that the students can develop the ability to think critically by adding some challenging elements to the cases.

Medication Administration Simulation


  • A simulated clinical setting
  • Low fidelity manikin, or injectable task trainer with intravenous capabilities
  • Mock set of provider orders
  • IV pump (if simulating IV medication)


  1. Instruct students to practice and demonstrate a variety of intravenous and intramuscular medications.
  2. Have students work independently or in groups of two.
  3. Provide mock doctor orders for medication.
  4. Instruct students to safely demonstrate safe medication administration.
  5. Provide feedback on critical thinking skills: identification of missing order items, identification of unsafe and inappropriate dosing, ability to program pump or drawing up of medication, and the ability to identify steps to correct presented issues.

To develop critical thinking skills, the patient cases should include medication relevant items like allergies to the medication, missing physician orders, and complex mathematics to calculate dosing. These case challenges bring an interesting element of engagement to the course, connecting theory to real-life job skills.

Simulating Dressing Changes


  • A simulated clinical setting
  • Manikin or volunteer to act as a patient
  • Moulage (makeup applied to look like an infected wound)
  • Appropriate dressing supplies (gauze pads, sterile saline)


  1. Instruct patients on the purpose of the simulation.
  2. Separate students into small groups of two to four people.
  3. Provide realistic doctor's orders for a dressing change.
  4. Allow students to work through the scenario.
  5. Provide feedback on critical thinking skills: safe patient handling and body mechanics, accuracy of dressing change, depth of assessment, identification of wound infection, and proper plans for future patient care.

This simulation not only covers the equipment and supplies needed for safe and clean dressing changes, but also teaches students how to think critically in terms of caring for wounds. Students are presented with normal and infected wounds, and learn how to appropriately assess, document, and report wounds. By the end of this simulation session, students should understood when to report wounds to the doctor, and the implications of an infected wound on the overall health of their patients.

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