How to Study Health Assessment

As a nurse, one of your most important skills will be your ability to accurately assess your patients, hands down.  That’s why many nursing programs begin to validate your health assessment skills as early as your first semester.  Read on to discover our tips for studying and performing your nursing assessments!

Are you wondering how to study for your health assessment course?  Or what makes a great nursing assessment?  Click through to check out our latest blog post and begin mastering nursing assessments!


Use videos to guide you

In your health assessment course, YouTube will certainly be your friend!  Watching someone conduct either a complete or system-specific assessment is useful because, rather than simply reading your textbook, you can visualize the correct techniques that you’ll be performing during your assessments.  But one thing to keep in mind while you’re searching for videos of assessments is that you want to find videos that closely match the assessments you are required to perform in your class or clinical.  For example, you wouldn’t want to only watch videos of nurse practitioners performing assessments, because their assessments are usually more advanced than those of a LPN or RN, and you’ll risk getting confused.

Start small

It is definitely more beneficial to master each system one at a time instead of trying to study an entire shift assessment all at once.  Once you have each body system down, you will be able to see how they all fit together, and how you can organize your complete assessment.

Don’t study alone

This may seem really obvious, but health assessment is one of those subject that you certainly don’t want to study alone.  When you are learning health assessments, it’s important that you practice over and over again.  That is the only way that it will become second nature.  And  that does not entail merely practicing on the mannequins in your sim lab every time.  You need to assess your family, friends, and your nursing school peers!  Because just like with every other skill, assessing a mannequin is completely different from assessing a real patient.  

It would be ideal for you to have a study group with at least two other nursing students.  You can take turns assessing one another, and provide each other with valuable feedback on techniques that were performed well and aspects of the assessment that were forgotten.

Conducting your assessment

Below are some steps that you can take to begin mastering nursing assessments in the clinical setting.

Gather necessary equipment/supplies

Before you begin your assessment, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got everything you need.  It’s easy to remember the basics like your pen light and stethoscope, but depending on the acuity of your patient, you may need more supplies or equipment.

Remember to be personable/introduce yourself.

When you perform your shift assessment, that is usually the first time your patient sees you.   So make sure that you properly introduce yourself, state what you are planning to do, and an estimate of how long it will take.

Pain assessment

Before you even touch your patient, go ahead and ask them if they are in any pain.  Based on what your patient tells you, you may have to be more gentle during some portions of your assessment or even delay a portion until later if your patient is having some intense discomfort.  Remember that to assess pain, you can use COLDSPA (character, onset, location, duration, severity, pattern, and associated factors of their pain).


Now you’re ready to start the rest of your shift assessment!  You will certainly appear more organized if you conduct your assessment from head to toe.  For example, if a cardiac assessment is part of your shift assessment, go ahead and palpate the carotid pulses once you get to your patient’s neck since that is the area that you’re currently focusing on.

Proper order of assessment

One of the first things you learn in your health assessment course is the correct order of assessment, which is typically inspection, palpation, percussion, and then auscultation.  But remember for the abdomen that you want to inspect, auscultate, palpate, and then percuss, otherwise your assessment will be inaccurate!  Keep this in mind as you perform your assessments to be sure that you are always assessing in the correct order!

Don’t forget the whole picture

When you are first learning assessment, it’s easy to only focus on assessing your patient and forgetting to look at the complete clinical picture.  Don’t forget to make sure your patient’s fluids are running at the appropriate rate if they have IV therapy, check the patency of the IV, look for any safety hazards like cords on the floor, and check that the monitors/equipment are functioning correctly.

Those are our tips for studying health assessment effectively and performing your best nursing assessment yet!  Hopefully you found this guide to be helpful!  What tips do you have for either studying or conducting a nursing assessment?  Don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below!

Why You Should Welcome Failure

I can remember the stinging sensation of tears filling my eyes as I walked towards my car.  Only minutes before I had experienced my first nursing school skills validation, but the outcome was not what I expected.  I failed.  This feeling of being a failure and the immense disappointment was new to me.  I began to fiercely doubt myself and the ability to continue on in the nursing program.  How could I possibly be a nurse if I couldn't perform the skills nursing demanded?

This situation unfolded twice more during my nursing school experience.  Confidence broken and nerves running rampant, I allowed myself to expect failure.  Hands on skills would always be a weakness of mine, I reasoned.  But then the idea that maybe I was being a bit harsh on myself came to mind.  These skills and nursing school experiences were completely new to me.  I had never attempted IV/IM medication administration or placing foley catheters, and yet I was upset at my lack of perfection during my skills validations.  What happened after I let go of striving for perfection and started to treat myself with kindness and grace?  I started to ace my skills validations.

Failure is an inevitable part of life, yet when we experience it, we tend to hang our heads in shame and disappointment.  But since we cannot escape failure and mistakes, we need to embrace these experiences.  Failures do not reflect who we are, but rather present opportunities for growth.  Click through to discover how you should approach failure as a nurse. 

It is unrealistic to think you won't make mistakes as a nursing student and as a nurse.  Ask just about any nurse and depending on how candid he or she is, they will tell you about the countless mistakes they have made.  

In nursing school, especially in an extremely competitive program, you're likely to be surrounded by high achieving Type A students who are giving it their all each day and have no problem broadcasting their success to others.  In nursing school there is already llittle room for error if you hope to make top grades in lecture and clinical. Then there is the pressure to keep up with the high achievers.  You may be wondering how they are making it through nursing school so gracefully. Can I let you in on a little secret?  The people whose success you may be admiring or envious of may not be as flawless as you think.

It was well known amongst our nursing school cohort that Kleneice and I were top students.  But what few people knew was that we missed assignments, failed skills validations, failed clinical at midterm, earned mediocre grades in our favorite subjects, and overslept and missed classes.  Since we've been working as nurses we've made errors with drawing labs, medication errors, a needlestick injury and much more.  Why am I telling you this?  First and foremost, I would never want any of you to have a false impression of who we are.  We want to let you know that although we graduated at the top of our nursing class, landed jobs on two specialty units and passed NCLEX in 75 questions, we did not escape nursing school unscathed, nor have we been flawless as bedside nurses. 

Even though we've made errors at work we're still determined to give our best every day. Do not let anyone make you feel inferior or stupid because of a mistake you've made or a a failure you've experienced.  You won't be able to find a perfect nursing student or nurse.  They simply don't exist.  We caused ourselves a lot of unnecessary stress at the beginning of nursing school because we were basically striving for perfection.  Not only did we feel a lot less anxious and depressed when we lifted those unreasonable expectations, but we also began to perfom better.

Mistakes and failures are an inevitable part of life, but they do not define who you are as a person or who you will be as a nurse.  A misshap doesn't mean that you are a failure.  It simply means you are a human being. Do not listen to anyone who tries to convince you of the opposite.

So what should you do after you make a mistake?  It is important to recognize why and how the mistake occured.  Were you rushing?  Do you need to study/practice more? Is it an anxiety issue? Is it a system failure at work?  After you have recognized why the mistake occured, determine what you can learn from the situation in order to be prepared if similar circumstances arise again.  Take responsibility for the error/failure and then let it stay in the past.  Remember this misshap has no defining power about who you are.

It is my hope that this blog post gives you some peace when a misshap occurs.  As nurses and nursing students, we are subject to criticism from fellow nurses, students, professors, patients, and patient families, but we should always be kind to ourselves.  The last thing we need is criticism from ourselves when we can be exposed to it from so many other sources.  Be kind to yourself always, and allow yourself to be molded and shaped by all your experiences as a nursing student and nurse, including the good and bad.

How to Ace Pharmacology: A Step by Step Guide

Pharmacology is often considered the most challenging subject in nursing school.  Naturally, who wouldn't be a little intimidated at the task of learning dozens of drugs in a single semester?  Pharmacology is tough because similar to your pre-requisite anatomy class, you will be expected to memorize a lot of facts and then face more knowledge-based rather than application style questions.  

Just like any other course, the way that you choose to study pharmacology will influence the grades you make and the amount of information you can retain.  Most students, when faced with the insane amount of facts that must be learned in pharm, decide to devote the majority of their time struggling to make flashcards.  Kleneice and I encourage you to seek alternative methods rather than flashcards.  Why?  We were not oblivious to the overwhelm and panic on the faces of our classmates as we watched them sort through mountains of flashcards.  Another observation that I quickly realized was that the people with the mountains of flashcards weren't doing so good on the tests.  We are going to share with you the study method we relied on to ace pharmacology.

Are you freaking out about your pharm class?  Don't worry, we've got you covered!  Click through to discover our best study tips that will help you pass pharm with flying colors.  SPOILER: They DON'T involve making flashcards! 


1. Take a look at the drug on a Pharmacology app like Medscape

Pharmacology apps are fantastic resources for healthcare workers so naturally you will find the most important information that you need to know as a nurse about the drug.  The apps are also great at condensing the information that is presented into your textbook, in order to quickly familiarize yourself with the must know facts about a certain drug.  I found that Medscape (which is completely free!) was most helpful in identifying adverse effects, contraindications, and drug interactions.

2. Review your class notes

More than likely in lecture your professor has stressed at least some characteristics of the drugs that they want you to know.  Pay special attention in class to the facts that your teacher emphasizes and be sure to document these in your notes so you know exactly what is worth committing to memory.

3. Skim your textbook

As usual, your textbook should be one of your last points of reference.  After reviewing the information on the app and your class notes, turn to your textbook to fill in any missing links.  You could also refer to your ATI pharmacology textbook or NCLEX prep book at this step.

4. Make your spreadsheet

Now its time to get to the meat and potatoes of this study method, which relies on the creation and study of spreadsheets to commit the facts about the drugs to memory. You'll want to create a spreadsheet for each category of drugs like pain meds, blood pressure meds, respiratory, GI, etc (whatever categories make the most sense to you!)

Go ahead and open google sheets, excel, or some other spreadsheet software (or you could just make tables!) and create cells for the name of the drug, therapeutic action, adverse effects, contraindications, drug interactions, and patient education.  Of course, depending on what your professor wants you to know, you could add or omit some categories! Using the information you have gathered from your app, notes, textbook, and supplemental books, add brief facts or summaries to each category of the drug.

Here's an example of one of our spreadsheets that has been color coded to show similarities between the drugs!

Here's an example of one of our spreadsheets that has been color coded to show similarities between the drugs!

The magic in this method is that studying by referring to a spreadsheet shifts your focus from learning each drug individually to learning by grouping which is a lot more effective.  It is much easier to learn the characteristics of a drug when it shares several features with other drugs. When you identify similarities between drugs, go ahead and color code them with the same color.  What if there aren’t any similarities?  The reverse is just as effective.  Learning which drugs are polar opposites is also a great way to strengthen your memory.

What if you just can’t fight the urge to make flashcards because that’s what everyone else is doing? At least do yourself a favor and make your flashcards online using a service like Quizlet.  Why? Because Quizlet has this awesome feature of allowing you to turn your flashcards into a test so that you can assess your knowledge later.

5. Take the time to truly commit the knowledge to memory

Ask yourself why certain characteristics of the drug make sense.  Pay attention to how the mechanism of action is responsible for the therapeutic and adverse effects.  For example, it makes sense that albuterol can cause tachycardia because the drug works by stimulating the beta receptors of the heart and lungs. How are the adverse effects linked to the contraindications, drug interactions, and patient education?  Every fact about a drug is linked to another component of the drug. When you understand the why, answering questions about the drugs becomes infinitely easier!

6. Answer as many questions as you can!

We're pretty sure you knew this one was coming! Answering NCLEX style pharmacology questions is truly one of the best ways to prepare for your exams.  This will help you identify any areas that need more of your focus.  Besides, the best way to increase your scores on your tests is to practice taking as many test questions as possible.  

Bonus: if your courses allow it, try to link your med-surg and pharmacology studies.  It makes things a lot easier to understand if you can learn how a drug works to treat a disease while learning about the disease itself.  A bonus is that in one study session you would have studied two subjects in half the time, and who doesn’t love a time saving method in nursing school?
Studying pharmacology truly doesn't have to be as hard as everyone says it is.  By investing time in understanding how certain features of a drug are connected or how multiple drugs are related or different, you are making a commitment to understanding the "why".  When you truly understand the "why" it won't matter if you can't memorize the million facts about a single drug.

Are you excited to try out this method of studying pharmacology? What study tips have helped you in your pharmacology course?  Was this post helpful to you? Let us know in the comments below! As always, we love hearing from you :)

How to Study Med-Surg

We’re continuing our study series with a topic that we know you’ll be excited about!  It’s no doubt that Med-Surg is one of the most difficult courses that you’ll take throughout nursing school, and today we are going to walk you through exactly how you can effectively study for it.  Read on to learn the steps you can take to improve your performance in Med-Surg!

Med-Surg is one of the toughest courses you'll take in nursing school, and in this blog post we reveal one of the best ways that you can study for it.  Click through to check out our step-by-step guide for success in Med-Surg. BONUS: Includes a FREE Study printable!

Med-Surg is an intimidating subject because you are expected to learn multiple diseases and not only how they affect the body, but also how to assess and treat those conditions.  A common mistake nursing students make during the study of Med-Surg is spending too much time trying to learn the anatomy and physiology responsible for the course of the disease. While it is important to understand the basics of how a disease develops and what it does to the body, the majority of your studies in Med-Surg should be dedicated to learning what you need to know as a nurse.  This is the key to succeeding in your Med-Surg course.  Don’t fall into the trap of learning every symptom that needs to be present for a diagnosis.  As nurses, our focus is not diagnosis.  Keep in mind that nursing responsibilities include assessment, treating the patient’s symptoms and trying to prevent them from getting worse, and educating patients about their plan of care and how to manage their disease.  (and we have created a tool that will aid you in identifying these things)

Your Med-Surg textbook will most likely feature more information than you could possibly ever read, and it can be difficult identifying what needs to be known as a nurse.  This is the exact reason why we recommend saving your textbook for last point of reference.  To make studying for Med-Surg a far less confusing experience, it is key to have multiple resources and incorporate these into your study routine.

Look up the disease on a website such as Medscape, Mayo Clinic, or WebMd to get a VERY general overview of the disorder. 

The information on these websites is usually written in a way that the general public can easily understand, which will help you grasp the basics.  Bonus: On these websites, there is usually a section that includes questions the patients should ask their healthcare providers.  Check out these questions and prepare brief explanations on how you would educate the patient.

Use your comprehensive NCLEX review book to identify the critical information that you need to know about the disorder.

The comprehensive NCLEX review book is also a great tool to identify the nursing assessment and interventions and any MUST-KNOW information that would serve you well to remember for your class exam and future NCLEX.  It is critical that you use an NCLEX review book to guide your studies each semester so that you can be sure you are studying the most important information about a given topic.  We liked to study with our NCLEX books opened right next to our textbooks to help us identify which sections were worth reading.  You can see which comprehensive review book we recommend in The Top 5 Tools for Nursing Students

Now after two or three exposures to the content it is time to open your textbook.

Waiting to read your textbook until you have gained a basic understanding is the key to saving time and studying more effectively because now you will know which sections of the chapter have the most important information you need to know.  This strategy also eliminates the overwhelm many nursing students face when they try to read an entire chapter first and are unable to identify what is worth their focus.  Make sure you check out Getting the Most Out of Your Nursing Textbook, especially if you've been reading your textbook word for word (which we don't recommend)!

Take the information you have learned and TEACH it.  

Use this mnemonic as a guide while you are studying, as it encompasses all the important things that you need to know as a nurse:

T is for treatment: What therapeutic procedures can the patient undergo with this disorder?  What are some popular medications or med classes that will be used to manage this disorder?
E is for education:  What will you educate your patient about regarding their condition?  Any activities/foods that must be avoided?  When should your patient call 911 or return to the ER?
A is for assessment:  When you assess your patient, how will they present clinically?  What abnormalities will be present?  Both visually and in terms of their labs/vital signs?
C is for complications:  What complications can result from this disorder?  Can it progress to a worsening condition?
H is for help:  How will you as the nurse help this patient?  In other words, what are the nursing interventions that you would perform for this patient?

Answer as many NCLEX style questions about the content as possible.

It doesn’t matter whether you choose the questions featured at the end of the chapter (always a good idea!), an app, or a Q&A book.  The key is that after you have had several exposures to the material and completed the TEACH outline, you commit to answering quality questions of moderate difficulty.  The more questions that you answer, the less test anxiety you’ll have when it’s exam day, and the better prepared you’ll be for that looming NCLEX!

We are confident that if you incorporate these steps into your study routine for Med-Surg, not only will your grades improve, but you’ll find that you have a better understanding of the disorders you’re learning.  Was this post helpful?  How do you plan on adopting these tips into your own study routine?  Let us know in the comments below!

Getting the Most Out of Your Nursing Textbooks

Because of the ridiculous price of textbooks these days, it is critical that you use your books in the most effective way.  Does that mean you should read your textbook cover to cover, line by line? Actually, using your textbook in a highly effective way involves skimming the chapters. Skimming your textbook is a valuable skill that will serve you well in your nursing school career, especially when you have multiple chapters to read for several classes. Some nursing students shy away from skimming their textbooks and devote hours to reading entire chapters for fear of missing something important.

We believe that when skimming your textbook the right way, you won't miss any important information.  In fact, you will save time by skipping over all the nonessential facts because you will know where to identify the main ideas.  

Reading your nursing textbooks word for word, line by line isn't just unnecessary, it's a HUGE time waster! In order to use your textbook effectively to complement your studies, you should be skimming instead! Click through to learn how to skim so you don't miss any important points AND breeze through the chapters in half the time!

Skimming your textbook either before or after class is entirely up to you, and will probably be influenced by the teaching style of your instructors or your own learning style.  Whether you decide to skim before or after class, your awareness of the main ideas will strengthen your focus during your study sessions and lead to higher grades and increased comprehension. 

Read the summary at the end of the chapter

Really? Start at the end of the chapter? Yes! The summary at the end of the chapter is a valuable section to read because you can usually find the main points stated here concisely and simply.  Reading the summary first also gives you an idea of what to expect in the chapter so that you can focus your reading.  It is easier to get carried away and fall into the trap of reading every line when you haven’t identified the main point. You may be wondering what to do if the summary is too short or you have trouble gathering the main ideas from it.  Move on to step 2!

Flip to the front of the chapter and read the objectives

Nursing textbooks love to list objectives at the start of each chapter that can be used to your advantage.  Think of the objectives page as a cheat list of the main ideas of the chapter.  So why start with reading the summary instead of the objectives?  Honestly you could start by reading the objectives first, but we preferred to start with the summary because sometimes the objectives can be worded vaguely and not reveal exactly what you need to know.

For example, a typical objective is written in some fashion like, “Identify the top 3 factors contributing to obesity in children under age 10.”  This is a nice roadmap that tells me what I need to look for, but I may find the exact answer to this objective in the summary.

Whether you choose to read the summary first or not, the main thing is that you do not ignore the objectives!  The objectives list is your roadmap to the chapter and will help you identify which sections of the textbook are worth your time.  Another reason why you should never ignore the objectives list? The objectives frequently appear on professors’ study guides.  If you notice your teacher pulling objectives onto their study guides for your exams, then you truly can’t afford to ignore them.

Read the headings to determine which paragraphs are worth your time

The reason why you should pay attention to the objectives is because they will guide your reading.  Analyze what the objective wants you to know and find the corresponding heading that has the information you need to address that objective.  Some paragraphs in your textbook will be completely irrelevant to the objectives, so don’t waste time on those sections.  Instead, use the headings to determine which paragraphs may have the answers to an objective.

Pay attention to charts and graphs

Any sort of visual presentation in your textbook is worth glancing over because typically, significant information is depicted as a graphic.  Also, the more unique exposures you have to a concept or fact, the more likely you are to remember it. Within your textbook you can find line graphs, pie charts, tables, bar graphs, images, cartoons, etc. that will complement the text.  Pay attention to these graphics to break up the monotony of reading boring text from your book. Why else should you pay attention to the graphics in the book?  Sometimes professors will make test questions from the captions of these graphics because they are easy targets to see if you actually opened your textbook. 

Great, so now you know how to skim your textbook, but you're probably wondering when to preview your reading.  We don't have a clear cut, this-is-how-it-should-always-be-done-approach for previewing your text, as it will likely vary with each course that you take.

If you have an instructor who welcomes you to class with a pop quiz (Gosh, don't you just love that?), then it may be in your best interest to skim before class.  Not only will you perform better on those reading checks, you'll also be able to understand what your instructor is teaching.

If, on the other hand, your instructor does not impose any sort of reading checks throughout the course, you may find it helpful to skim after class.  When you "preview" your text after you've already attended a lecture on the material, you save even more time because you can skip over any sections that your instructor mentioned absolutely nothing about.  Having heard the lecture takes out the guesswork of wondering what your instructor believes the main/important content is.

And if you have time (we know that is scarce in nursing school), you may even want to skim both before and after lecture, just for good measure.  Only you know what will fit into your schedule and ultimately work best for you.

There you have it! We this guide to previewing your text and getting the most out of your textbook has been helpful to you!  Have we convinced you to skim rather than read your text word for word?  Let us know in the comments below!