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!