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Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.

Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.



These modules are offered at Introductory level (level 6) and Advanced level, for those undertaking autonomous practice. They have been designed for emergency nurse practitioners, primary care nurse practitioners, community matrons, night-nurse practitioners, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and nurses working in pre-surgical clinics, day surgery, cardiac and respiratory clinics, critical care outreach teams and walk-in centres.Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.


The aim of these modules are to enable you, as the experienced practitioner, to develop your physical assessment skills and apply this to your clinical context. As the autonomous practitioner, you will be equipped with the advanced knowledge base, communication skills, and safe clinical examination skills to make confident autonomous, effective and evidence based patient care decisions. You will also be able to undertake an autonomous assessment to start planning appropriate care or referral for your patients.

After completion of the module you will be able to:

Develop knowledge and skills in order to start to facilitate a safe holistic patient assessment
Apply your knowledge of anatomy and physiology in conjunction with physical assessment to each body system
Use more advanced communication techniques, evidence based knowledge and critical thinking in order to identify patient needs
Identify presenting complaint and synthesise findings from physical  examination and assessment and then relates this to underlying pathophysiology
Use history taking and clinical findings in order to aid with differential diagnosis
Reflect on prior professional experience to aid with decision making
Collaborate with colleagues in assessment and referral of patient.Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
Course content

This module will over the following areas:

Anatomy and physiology review
History taking and documentation
Physical assessment skills- inspection, auscultation, percussion and palpation
Systems covered- Respiratory, Cardiovascular, Abdomen, Neurology, Muscular Skeletal and ear, nose and throat
Recognition of abnormalities within these systems
Advanced communication and decision making
Role of the multidisciplinary team.Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
Learning and teaching

Learning and teaching will have a problem orientated focus through guided study and case scenarios in order to develop and reinforce lifelong learning perspectives for clinical skills. This will be done through guided on line learning supported by narrated presentations and online demonstration videos for the student to access at any time. Students will attend study days to access face to face clinical assessment skill demonstrations and supervision from teachers. Students will then be given the opportunity to develop these learnt assessment skills in their own practice setting so it is essential that the student has a supervisor in practice and has secured an appropriate practice setting.

Study days will give the opportunity for development, application and reflection of clinical examination skills to aid with diagnosis and plan care/ referral.Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.


Assessment will be 100% OSCE based for level 6 and mix of OSCE and Portfolio for level 7. OSCE is based on all the clinical examination skills learnt as well as history taking and a written paper based on anatomy, physiology and clinical scenarios.

How to apply

To be eligible for this module you must have current employment and support to practice in an appropriate health care setting. You should also be able to give details of an allocated clinically experienced (in that field) supervisor who will support your clinical practice.Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.

Please visit our CPD page to download a healthcare and social work application form and for more information on the application process.

Fees and funding

The fees* below refer to the 2019/20 academic year unless otherwise stated.

Level 6:

Per credit: £60
15 credits: £900

Level 7:

Per credit: £60
30 credits: £1,800

*Course fees are subject to annual inflation.

There are several funding options available:

receiving course fees via CPPD contracts between NHS trusts and Middlesex University
paying your own fees
sponsorship by your employer (but not under a CPPD contract).

For more information for any of these options, including fee rates for self-funding/employer-sponsored students, please visit our dedicated funding page.Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.

Overview of Nursing Health Assessment
This course has been awarded two (2.0) contact hours.
This course expires on February 28, 2019.
First Published: June 15, 2004
Revised: August 30, 2006
Revised: August 30, 2009
Revised: September 2, 2011
Revised: September 2, 2013
Revised: September 2, 2014
Copyright© 2004 by AMN Healthcare in association with Interact Medical
All Rights Reserved. Reproduction and distribution of these materials is prohibited without an content
licensing agreement.
Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support strives to present content in a fair and unbiased manner at all times, and has a full and fair disclosure
policy that requires course faculty to declare any real or apparent commercial affiliation related to the content
of this presentation. Note: Conflict of Interest is defined by ANCC as a situation in which an individual has an
opportunity to affect educational content about products or services of a commercial interest with which
he/she has a financial relationship.
The author of this course does not have any conflict of interest to declare.
The planners of the educational activity have no conflicts of interest to disclose.
There is no commercial support being used for this course.
Acknowledgements acknowledges the valuable contributions of…
… Nadine Salmon, MSN, BSN, IBCLC is the Clinical Content Manager for She is a South African trained
Registered Nurse, Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Nadine obtained an MSN at
Grand Canyon University, with an emphasis on Nursing Leadership. Her clinical background is in Labor &
Delivery and Postpartum nursing, and she has also worked in Medical Surgical Nursing and Home Health.
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Nadine has work experience in three countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and South
Africa. She worked for the international nurse division of American Mobile Healthcare, prior to joining the
Education Team at Nadine is the Lead Nurse Planner for and is responsible for all clinical
aspects of course development. She updates course content to current standards, and develops new course
materials for Physical Assessment Module Essay.
…Kim Maryniak, RNC-NIC, BN, MSN. Kim has over 22 years staff nurse and charge nurse experience with
medical/surgical, psychiatry, pediatrics, and neonatal intensive care. She has been an educator, instructor, and
nursing director. Her instructor experience includes med/surg nursing and physical assessment. Kim graduated
with a nursing diploma from Foothills Hospital School of Nursing in Calgary, Alberta in 1989. She achieved her
Bachelor in Nursing through Athabasca University, Alberta in 2000, and her Master of Science in Nursing
through University of Phoenix in 2005. Kim is certified in Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing and is currently
pursuing her PhD in Nursing. She is active in the National Association of Neonatal Nurses and American Nurses
Association. Kim’s current role in professional development includes nursing peer review and advancement,
teaching, and use of simulation.
… Lori Constantine MSN, RN, C-FNP, original course author.
Purpose and Objectives
This course will provide the nurse with the knowledge needed to provide a complete health assessment for an
adult patient.
After successful completion of this course, you will be able to:
1. Ask appropriate questions when conducting a comprehensive health history to elicit data that will be
used to guide a physical examination
2. List the components of the comprehensive physical examination and review of systems based on red
flags identified in the patient history
3. Determine when to perform four different types of health assessments:
• Complete or comprehensive
• Interval or abbreviated
• Focused
• Special populations
Health assessment of patients falls under the purview of both physicians and nurses. While some nurses
practice in extended roles (Advanced Nurse Practitioners), others maintain a more traditional role in the acute
care setting. Assessment of patients varies based on both role and setting. A cardiac care nurse will be more
familiar with and attuned to cardiac issues. A nurse on a neurologic unit will be more familiar with a more
complex neuro exam.

As you progress through this course, keep in mind that exposure to a detailed health assessment may lead you
to a more comprehensive and thorough exam. For instance, if you note a patient has leukoplakia (coated
tongue) as you perform your general assessment, you may wonder about hygiene issues, underlying diseases,
or medications that may cause this. Documenting the information, talking with the patient about it, and
confirming it with the physician adds to your value as a healthcare team member, and ultimately a better
patient care provider.
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As you progress through the course, note which parts of the exam are applicable in your practice, don’t fit
into your practice, or you might want to include in your practice.
General Health Assessment
The nursing health assessment is an incredibly valuable tool nurses have in their arsenal of skills. A thorough
and skilled assessment allows you, the nurse, to obtain descriptions about your patient’s symptoms, how the
symptoms developed, and a process to discover any associated physical findings that will aid in the
development of differential diagnoses. Assessment uses both subjective and objective data. Subjective
assessment factors are those that are reported by the patient. Objective assessment data includes that which
is observable and measurable (Jarvis, 2012).

During the assessment period, you are given an opportunity to develop a rapport with your patient and their
family. Remember the adage “first impressions are lasting impressions?” That adage is also very true in
healthcare. You are often the first person your patient sees when admitted to your unit, returns from testing,
or at the beginning of a new shift. Your interactions with your patient gives the patient and family lasting
impressions about you, other nurses, the facility you are working in, and how care will be managed (Jarvis,
All assessments should consider the patient’s privacy and foster open, honest patient communications.
Test Yourself
Nurses use physical assessment skills to:
A. Obtain baseline data
B. Enhance the nurse-patient relationship
C. Both of the above
The answer is: C. Both of the above.
Types of General Health Assessments
In general, there are four fundamental types of assessments that nurses perform:
• A comprehensive or complete health assessment
• An interval or abbreviated assessment
• A problem-focused assessment
• An assessment for special populations
A comprehensive or complete health assessment usually begins with obtaining a thorough health history and
physical exam. This type of assessment is usually performed in acute care settings upon admission, once your
patient is stable, or when a new patient presents to an outpatient clinic.
If the patient has been under your care for some time, a complete health history is usually not indicated.
Nurses perform an interval or abbreviated assessment at this time. These assessments are usually performed
at subsequent visits in an outpatient setting, at change of shift, when returning from tests, or upon transfer to
your unit from another in-house unit. This type of assessment is not as detailed as the complete assessment
that occurs at admission. The advantage of an abbreviated assessment is that it allows you to thoroughly
assess your patient in a shorter period of time (Jarvis, 2012). Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
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Problem-Focused Assessments and Assessing Special Populations
The third type of assessment that you may perform is a problem-focused assessment. The problem-focused
assessment is usually indicated after a comprehensive assessment has identified a potential health problem.
The problem-focused assessment is also indicated when an interval or abbreviated assessment shows a
change in status from the most current previous assessment or report you received, when a new symptom
emerges, or the patient develops any distress. An advantage of the focused assessment is that it directs you to
ask about symptoms and move quickly to conducting a focused physical exam (Jarvis, 2012; Scanlon, 2011).Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.

The fourth type of assessment is the assessment for special populations, including:
• Pregnant patients
• Infants
• Children
• The elderly
Baseline Assessment
If there is any indication to perform a problem-focused or special population assessment during the
comprehensive assessment, the assessment should occur after obtaining a baseline comprehensive
assessment. Based upon the results of the problem-focused or special population assessment, you can decide
how often to perform interval assessments to monitor your patient’s identified problem (Jarvis, 2012; Scanlon,
The special assessment should not replace the comprehensive or interval assessments, but should augment
both the complete and interval assessments. These will not be specifically addressed in this course. A
systematic physical assessment remains one of the most vital components of patient care. A thorough
physical assessment can be completed within a time frame that is practical and should never be dismissed
due to time constraints (Zambas, 2010).
Assessment Techniques: Inspection
Whether you are performing a comprehensive assessment or a focused assessment, you will use at least one
of the following four basic techniques during your physical exam: inspection, auscultation, percussion, and
palpation. These techniques should be used in an organized manner from least disturbing or invasive to most
invasive to the patient (Jarvis, 2012).
INSPECTION is the most frequently used assessment technique. When you are using inspection, you are
looking for conditions you can observe with your eyes, ears, or nose. Examples of things you may inspect are
skin color, location of lesions, bruises or rash, symmetry, size of body parts and abnormal findings, sounds,
and odors. Inspection can be an important technique as it leads to further investigation of findings (Jarvis,
2012).Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
Please note!
Inspection is a critical observation that should always occur first during an assessment (Jarvis, 2012).

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Test Yourself
The most frequently used assessment technique is:
A. Palpation
B. Inspection
C. Percussion
D. Auscultation
The correct answer is: B. Inspection.
Assessment Techniques: Auscultation
AUSCULTATION is usually performed following inspection,
especially with abdominal assessment. The abdomen should
be auscultated before percussion or palpation to prevent
production of false bowel sounds.
When auscultating, ensure the exam room is quiet and
auscultate over bare skin, listening to one sound at a time.
Auscultation should never be performed over patient
clothing or a gown, as it can produce false sounds or diminish
true sounds. The bell or diaphragm of your stethoscope
should be placed on your patient’s skin firmly enough to
leave a slight ring on the skin when removed.
Be aware that your patient’s hair may also interfere with true identification of certain sounds. Remember to
clean your stethoscope between patients.
The diaphragm is used to listen to high pitched sounds and the bell is best used to identify low pitched
sounds (Jarvis, 2012; Edmunds, Ward & Barnes, 2010).Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
Assessment Techniques: Palpation
PALPATION, another commonly used physical exam
technique, requires you to touch your patient with different
parts of your hand using different strength pressures. During
light palpation, you press the skin about ½ inch to ¾ inch with
the pads of your fingers. When using deep palpation, use
your finger pads and compress the skin approximately 1½
inches to 2 inches. Light palpation allows you to assess for
texture, tenderness, temperature, moisture, pulsations, and
masses. Deep palpation is performed to assess for masses
and internal organs (Jarvis, 2012).
Assessment Techniques: Percussion
PERCUSSION is used to elicit tenderness or sounds that may provide
clues to underlying problems.
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When percussing directly over suspected areas of tenderness, monitor the patient for signs of discomfort.
Percussion requires skill and practice.
Assessment Techniques: Percussion
The method of percussion is described as follows: Press the distal part of the middle finger of your nondominant hand firmly on the body part. Keep the rest of your hand off the body surface. Flex the wrist, but not
the foreman, of your dominant hand. Using the middle finger of your dominant hand, tap quickly and directly
over the point where your other middle finger contacts the patient’s skin, keeping the fingers perpendicular.
Listen to the sounds produced (Jarvis, 2012).Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
These sounds may include:
• Tympany
• Resonance
• Hyperressonance
• Dullness
• Flatness
Tympany sounds like a drum and is heard over air pockets.
Resonance is a hollow sound heard over areas where there is a solid structure and some air (like the lungs).
Hyperressonance is a booming sound heard over air such as in emphysema.
Dullness is heard over solid organs or masses.
Flatness is heard over dense tissues including muscle and bone (Jarvis, 2012).
Health History
The purpose of obtaining a health history is to provide you with a description of your patient’s symptoms and
how they developed. A complete history will serve as a guide to help identify potential or underlying illnesses
or disease states. In addition to obtaining data about the patient’s physical status, you will obtain information
about many other factors that impact your patient’s physical status including spiritual needs, cultural
idiosyncrasies, and functional living status. The basic components of the complete health history (other than
biographical information) include:Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
• Chief complaint
• Present health status
• Past health history
• Current lifestyle
• Psychosocial status
• Family history
• Review of systems
Communication during the history and physical must be respectful and performed in a culturally-sensitive
manner. Privacy is vital, and the healthcare professional needs to be aware of posture, body language, and
tone of voice while interviewing the patient (Jarvis, 2012; Caple, 2011).Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
Test Yourself
Factors that impact your patient’s physical status include spiritual needs, cultural idiosyncrasies, and
functional living status.
A. True
B. False
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The correct answer is: A. True.
Chief Complaint
In your patient’s own words, document the chief complaint. The chief complaint may be elicited by asking one
of the following questions:
• So, tell me why you have come here today?
• Tell me what your biggest complaint is right now?
• What is bothering you the most right now?
• If we could fix any of your health problems right now, what would it be?
• What is giving you the most problems right now?
If your patient has more than one complaint, discuss which one is the most troublesome for them and
document the complaints in order of importance as determined by the patient (Jarvis, 2012).Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
Present Health Status
Obtaining information about a patient’s present health status allows the nurse to investigate current
complaints. The mnemonic, PQRST, utilizes a structured format for information gathering, including evaluation
of pain, and provides an efficient methodology to communicate with other healthcare providers. Use PQRST
to assess each symptom and after any intervention to evaluate any changes or responses to treatment (Jarvis,
P = Provocative or Palliative
• What makes the symptom(s) better or worse?
Q = Quality
• Describe the symptom(s).
R = Region or Radiation
• Where in the body does the symptom occur? Is there radiation or extension of the symptom(s) to
another area of the body?
S = Severity
• On a scale of 1-10, (10 being the worst) how bad is the symptom(s)? Another visual scale may be
appropriate for patients that are unable to identify with this scale.
T = Timing
• Does it occur in association with something else (i.e. eating, exertion, movement)?

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Past Health History
It is important to ask questions about your patient’s past health history. The past health history should elicit
information about the patient’s childhood illnesses and immunizations, accidents or traumatic injuries,
hospitalizations, surgeries, psychiatric or mental illnesses, allergies, and chronic illnesses. For women, include
history of menstrual cycle, how many pregnancies and how many births (Jarvis, 2012).
Childhood Illnesses: Data related to childhood illnesses is more pertinent to children than adults and the
elderly. For adults, you want to know if they have ever had rheumatic fever and if their tetanus and hepatitis B
vaccinations are current. For the elderly, you may want to ask if they ever had polio, rheumatic fever, or
chicken pox. Pertinent vaccinations for the elderly would include tetanus, pneumonia and influenza (Jarvis,

Accidents or Traumatic Injuries: When assessing this area of the past health history, pay particular attention
to patterns of injury, especially in infants, children, women and the elderly (Jarvis, 2012).
Past Health History
Hospitalizations: Be sure to ask the reason for the hospitalization and the nature of the treatments received
while in the hospital such as blood transfusions, surgeries and any follow-up treatments. Remember to include
hospitalizations for childbirth (Jarvis, 2012).
Surgeries: Many surgical procedures are performed on an outpatient basis. Questions regarding surgeries
should also be asked in addition to hospitalizations, as patients may not discuss a surgery if there was no
associated hospital stay (Jarvis, 2012).
Psychiatric or Mental Illnesses: If your patient has a past history of psychiatric or mental illnesses, ask what
triggered the illness, if anything, and the course and the progression of the illness. This includes depression
and anxiety, as well as diagnosed mental illness (Jarvis, 2012).
Allergies: Identify what your patient is allergic to (both food and medication), as well as the reaction and
response to treatment. It is important to ask about any environmental allergies or sensitivities (such as latex)
also (Jarvis, 2012).
Test Yourself
When assessing the elderly it is important to ask if they have ever had:
A. Polio
B. Tetanus
C. Cholera
D. Influenza
The correct answer is: A. Polio.
Family History
Family history is important in identifying your patient’s risk for certain disease states.
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Applicable generations with whom to explore health status include grandparents, parents, and the children of
your patient.Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
Chronic illnesses or known diseases with genetic components should also be screened for. Chronic illness or
disease can include cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, cholesterol, heart disease, hypertension, renal
disease, and mental illness, among others (Jarvis, 2012).
Family History
Current Health Status:
Information collected should also include details about your patient’s personal habits such as smoking or
drinking, nutrition, cholesterol, and if there is a history of heart disease or hypertension.
Obtain a list of current medications, including dose and frequency, as well as reason for taking them.
Remember to ask the patient about over the counter medications, vitamins, and herbal supplements (Jarvis,
Review of Systems and Physical Exam
The physical examination can be performed in a “head-to-toe” fashion, starting with the head and ending with
the toes. Although some healthcare professionals have varied tactics to performing this skill, the key to
assessment is to ensure a consistent, methodical approach to avoid missing any vital assessment areas.
A physical examination should include:
• Complete set of vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature)
• Immediate pain level – Can use acronym “PQRST” for quick pain assessment:
• P=provoking factors (what brought on the pain?); Q=quality (describe the pain- i.e. stabbing,
throbbing, burning); R=radiation (does the pain radiate anywhere?); S=severity/symptoms (how
bad is the pain- rate it; are there other symptoms with the pain?); T=timing (is it constant?
What makes it better/worse?)Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
A review of systems can be incorporated during your physical exam. While examining each body system, it is
appropriate to ask certain history questions that pertain to that system. The following sections list applicable
questions and physical exam criteria to evaluate while exploring that system. The areas in parentheses are
clues or details to note in each area.
Skin Assessment
Skin assessment can be performed throughout the physical examination. As each body system is examined,
assessment of the skin can be incorporated into findings (Jarvis, 2012).
When assessing the skin, EXAMINE the following:
• General pigmentation (evenness, appropriate for heritage)
• Systemic color changes (pallor, erythema, cyanosis, jaundice)
• Freckles and moles (symmetry, size, border, pigmentation)
• Temperature (hypothermia, hyperthermia)
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• Moisture and texture (diaphoresis, dehydration, firm smooth
• Edema (location and degree)
• Bruising (location, pattern, consistent with history – especially
in at risk populations)
• Lesions (color, elevation, pattern or shape, size, location,
• Hair (normal color, texture, distribution)
• Nails (shape, contour, color) (Jarvis, 2012)
Remember that skin breakdown is a common problem with ill and
hospitalized patients. Skin assessment is vital to identify areas of
vulnerability in the prevention of pressure ulcers.
Neurological Assessment
It may not be necessary to perform the entire neurological exam on a patient with no suspicion of neurological
disorders. You should perform a complete baseline neurological examination on any patient that has
verbalized neurological concerns in their history, or if a noted neurological deficit is discovered.
When examining the nervous system, ask the following:Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
• Any past history of head injury? (location, loss of consciousness)
• Do you have frequent or severe headaches? (when, where, how often)
• Any dizziness or vertigo? (frequency, precipitating factors, gradual or sudden)
• Ever had/or do you have seizures? (when did they start, frequency, course and duration, motor activity
associated with, associated signs, postictal phase, precipitating factors, medications, coping strategies)
Neurological Assessment
When examining the nervous system, also ask the following:
• Any difficulty swallowing? (solids or liquids, excessive saliva)
• Any difficulty speaking? (forming words or actually saying what you intended)
• Do you have any coordination problems? (describe)
• Do you have any numbness or tingling? (describe)
• Any significant past neurologic history? (cerebral vascular accident, spinal cord injuries, neurologic
infections, congenital disorders)
• Environmental or occupational hazards? (insecticides, lead, organic solvents, illicit drugs, alcohol)
(Jarvis, 2012)Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.

Recheck the neurological exam at periodic intervals with any patient that has a neurological deficit (Jarvis,
2012; D’Amato, & Hartlage, 2008).
The Complete Neurological Exam
When performing the complete neurological exam, examine the following
12 Cranial Nerves:
• Cranial Nerve I: Olfactory
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• Cranial Nerve II: Optic
• Cranial Nerves III, IV, & VI: Oculomotor, Trochlear, and Abducens
• Cranial Nerve V: Trigeminal
• Cranial Nerve VII: Facial Nerve
• Cranial Nerve VIII: Acoustic (Vestibulocochlear)
• Cranial Nerve IX & X: Glossopharyngeal and Vagus
• Cranial Nerve XI: Spinal Accessory
• Cranial Nerve XII: Hypoglossal
Click here for Cranial Nerve Functions Assessment Chart
Image of the Twelve Cranial Nerves
Cranial Nerve Assessment

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Testing the Motor System
Inspect and palpate the motor system
(Tests muscle groups and for motor neuron disease)
• Muscles appropriate size for body (atrophy, hypertrophy)
• Muscle strength (asymmetric, weak for patient)
• Muscle tone (range of motion, pain, flaccidity, spasticity, rigidity)
• Involuntary movements (tic, tremor, fasciculation)
Cerebellar Function and the Sensory System
Check cerebellar function
(Tests balance and coordination and skilled movements)
• Gait (stiff posture, staggering, wide base of support, lack of arm swing, unequal steps, dragging or
slapping of foot, ataxia)
• Romberg’s test (loss of balance increases when eyes are closed)
• Rapid alternating movements (lack of coordination, slow, clumsy)
• Finger to finger test (misses mark)
• Finger to nose test (misses mark)
• Heel to shin test (misses mark, lower extremity coordination impaired)
Assess the sensory system
(Tests intactness of peripheral nerves, sensory tracts, and higher cortical discrimination)
• Superficial pain
• Light touch
• Vibration
The Complete Neurological Exam
Assess the spinothalmic tract
(Tests for ability to sense pain, temperature, and light touch)
• Presence of pain (hypoalgesia, hyperalgesia, analgesia)
• Temperature (test only if pain test is normal)
• Light touch (hypoesthesia, anesthesia, hyperesthesia)
Assess posterior column tract
(May identify lesions of the sensory cortex or vertebral column)
• Vibration
• Position
• Tactile discrimination (stereognosis, graphesthesia)
• Two point discrimination

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Image of the Spinothalamic Tract
Assessing Reflexes
Check the reflexes
(May identify upper motor neuron disease, diseases of the pyramidal tract, or spinal cord injury)
• Stretch or deep tendon reflexes (clonus, hyporeflexia, hyperreflexia)
• Superficial reflexes (Abdominal, cremasteric, plantar) (Berman, Snyder, Kozier & Erb, 2012; Jarvis,
The Neurological Recheck or Abbreviated Neurological Exam
Perform the neurological recheck exam at periodic intervals with your patient who has a neurologic deficit.
This exam is also useful for your inpatient with a head injury or systemic disease process that may be
manifesting as a neurologic symptom (Jarvis, 2012).
When performing this abbreviated exam, examine the following:
Level of Consciousness
(Monitors for signs of increasing intracranial pressure)
• Is your patient oriented to person, place, and time? Are they oriented to the situation?
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• Is your patient alert? If not, what does it take to get them alert – calling their name, light touch,
vigorous touch, pain?
The Neurological Recheck or Abbreviated Neurological Exam
Motor Function
• Ask your patient to squeeze your fingers with their hands and let go (tests for strength and symmetry
of strength in the upper extremities)
• Ask your patient to push and pull their arms toward and away from you when their elbows are bent.
Provide some resistance (tests for strength and symmetry of strength in upper extremities)
• Ask your patient to dorsiflex and plantarflex their feet, while providing some resistance (tests for
strength and symmetry of strength in lower extremities)
• Ask your patient to perform straight leg raises with and without resistance (tests for strength and
symmetry of strength in lower extremities)
Pupillary Response
• Size, shape, and symmetry of both pupils should be the same
• Each pupil should constrict briskly when a light is shined into the eyes
• Each pupil should have consensual light reflex
Test Yourself
When checking pupillary response, size, shape, and__________ of both pupils should be the same.
The correct answer is: Symmetry.Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
Glasgow Coma Scale
The Glasgow Coma Scale assesses how the brain functions as a whole and not as individual parts (Altman,
The scale assesses three major brain functions:
• Eye opening
• Motor response
• Verbal response
A completely normal person will score 15 on the scale overall. Scores of less than 7 reflect coma.
Using the scale consistently in the healthcare setting allows healthcare providers to share a common language
and monitor for trends across time (Jarvis, 2012).
To refresh your skills in neurological assessment, visit’s course “Focused Neurological Assessment.”

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Glasgow Coma Scale
Head, Face and Throat Assessment
When assessing the head, face and throat, focus on assessment of suspected deficits as indicated by the
history, patient complaints, or disease process the patient is exhibiting. Some of the following points fall
outside of the general scope of nursing practice but may be observed by the nurse, or practiced in advanced
nursing roles. A complete exam of the head, face and throat is not warranted in every patient.
Head, Face and Throat Assessment
When examining the head, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and throat, ask the following questions:
• Do you get frequent or severe headaches?
• Any past history of head injury?
• Do you frequently get dizzy?
• Do you have any neck pain, swelling, or lumps?
• Do you have a history of head or neck surgery (Jarvis, 2012)?
Look for:
• General facial symmetry
• Hair distribution
• General facial expressions
• Lymph nodes or lesions (Jarvis, 2012)
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Assessment of the Eyes
• Any vision changes or difficulty?
• Any eye pain?
• Do you have double vision?
• Any redness, swelling or discharge?
• Do you have a history of glaucoma?
• Do you wear glasses or contacts (Jarvis, 2012)?
Look for:
• Visual acuity
• Visual fields (confrontation test)
• Extraocular muscle function (nystagmus,
abnormal corneal light reflex)
• Conjunctiva and sclera (redness, irritation)
• Pupil (shape, symmetry, light reflexes,
• Ocular fundus (red reflex, optic disc, retinal vessels, macula) (Jarvis, 2012)
Assessment of the Ears
• Have you had many ear infections?
• Do you have any discharge from your ears?
• Do you have any hearing difficulty?
• Do you have any environmental or occupational exposure to loud noises?
• Any ringing in your ears (tinnitus)?
• Any dizziness (vertigo) (Jarvis, 2012)?
Look for:
• Size, shape, skin condition, and tenderness
• External canal (redness, swelling, discharge)
• Tympanic membrane [color & characteristics (amber, redness), air/fluid levels]
• Hearing acuity (also examined as you collect the patient’s history)
Assessment of the Nose
• Any nasal discharge?
• Do you get frequent colds?
• Do you have sinus pain?
• Do you get nose bleeds?
• Do you have allergies?
• Have you had a change in sense of smell (Jarvis, 2012)?
Look for:
• Nasal cavity (discharge, rhinorrhea, swollen, boggy, mucosa)
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• Sinuses (tenderness and transillumination) (Jarvis, 2012)
Assessment of the Mouth and Throat
Mouth and Throat
• Skin integrity (lesions or blisters)
• Teeth (discoloration, bleeding or swollen
• Tongue (color, surface characteristics,
moisture, lesions)
• Buccal mucosa (discoloration, Koplik’s
spots, leukoplakia)
• Uvula (midline)
• Throat (tonsils, Cranial Nerve XII by
sticking out tongue) (Jarvis, 2012)
Look For:
• Do you have any sores or lesions in your
mouth or throat?
• Do you have a sore throat and
• Do you have a toothache or get bleeding gums?
• Any difficulty swallowing?
• Do things taste differently than usual?
• Do you smoke, drink or chew tobacco (Jarvis, 2012)?
Cardiovascular Assessment
Cardiovascular disease is the United States’ leading killer for both men and women among all racial and ethnic
groups. In 2009, heart disease is estimated to cost more than $304.6 billion, including healthcare services,
medications, and lost productivity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). Therefore, a complete
cardiovascular exam should be a part of every abbreviated and complete assessment.Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
When examining the cardiovascular system, ASK about the following:
• Any chest pain? (use PQRST pneumonic)
• Do you ever get short of breath? (associated with what)
• How many pillows do you sleep on at night? (orthopnea)
• Do you have a cough? (describe, frequency, timing, severity, sputum production)
• Are you frequently fatigued? (morning or night)
• Do you have any swelling or skin color changes? (edema, cyanosis, pallor)
• How often do you get up at night to urinate? (nocturia)
• Do you have a past history of cardiac or cardiovascular events or disorders?
• Do you have a family history of cardiovascular disease?
• Assess cardiac risk factors? (Jarvis, 2012; Edmunds, Ward, & Barnes, 2010)

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Cardiovascular Assessment
When assessing the cardiovascular system, examine the following:
• Palpate and auscultate the carotid artery (strength of pulsation, bruits, murmurs)
• Inspect and palpate the jugular veins (jugular vein distention)
• Inspect the precordium (heaves, lifts)
• Palpate the precordium (location of apical impulse, presence of thrill)
• Percuss cardiac borders
• Auscultate heart sounds
• Auscultate in a Z-pattern (listening over the aortic, pulmonic, mitral, and tricuspid valves and over Erb’s
point). (See appendix for auscultation landmarks)
• Identify S1 and S2
• Listen to S1 and S2 separately (split S1 or S2)
• Listen for any extra heart sounds (S3, S4, clicks, rubs)
• Listen for murmurs (note timing, loudness, pitch, pattern, quality, location, radiation, position)
• Palpate peripheral pulses: brachial, radial, femoral, popliteal, dorsalis pedis, posterior tibial (strength
and symmetry)
• Inspect extremities (color, capillary refill, edema, ulcerations) (Jarvis, 2012; Edmunds, Ward, & Barnes,
To listen to normal sinus rhythm and cardiac murmurs, click here:
The Auscultation Assistant
Pulmonary Assessment
When examining the pulmonary system, ask the following for both abbreviated and complete examinations:
• Do you have a cough? (use PQRST pneumonic)
• Do you frequently get short of breath? (position, associated night sweats, related to any triggering
• Pain with breathing? (constant or periodic, describe the quality, treatment)
• Any past history of breathing trouble or lung disease? (frequency and severity of colds, allergies,
asthma family history, smoking, environmental or occupational risk factors)
To refresh your skills in performing lung auscultation, visit’s course “Focused Physical Examination
for The Acute Care Setting.”
Pulmonary Assessment
When examining the pulmonary system, explore the following as
indicated by your patient’s history, symptoms or disease processes they
are exhibiting:
• Inspect the thoracic cage (symmetry of expansion, anteriorposterior diameter, any areas of retractions) (See appendix for
retraction sites)
• Palpate the thoracic cage (tactile fremitus)
• Percuss the thoracic cage (hyperressonance, dullness,
diaphragmatic excursion)
• Auscultate the anterior and posterior chest:
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• Have patient breath slightly deeper than normal through their
• Auscultate from C-7 to approximately T-8, in a left to right
comparative sequence. You should auscultate between every rib.
• Listen for bronchial, bronchovesicular, and vesicular breath
• Identify any adventitious breath sounds, their location, and
timing in relation to the cardiac cycle (crackles, or rales and
wheezes or rhonchi) (See appendix for auscultation landmarks)
• Auscultate voice sounds including bronchophony, egophony and
whispered pectoriloquy (Jarvis, 2012)
To listen to normal lung sounds, crackles and wheezes, click here:
The Auscultation Assistant
Assessing the Abdomen/Gastrointestinal System
When examining the abdomen/gastrointestinal system, ASK about the following:
• Any change in appetite?
• Any difficulty swallowing? (dysphagia)
• Any abdominal pain? (use PQRST pneumonic)
• Any nausea or vomiting? (color, odor, presence of blood, food intake in past 24 hours)
• Any change in bowel habits? (constipation, diarrhea, blood in stool, or dark, tarry stools)
• Do you have any hemorrhoids? (bleeding, treatment)
• Any past history of abdominal problems? (gall bladder, liver, pancreas, digestion, elimination)

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Assessing the Abdomen/Gastrointestinal System
Assessment of the abdomen includes inspection, auscultation,
percussion and palpation.
• For bulges, masses, hernias, ascites, spider nevi, veins,
pulsations or movements, or a patient’s inability to lie
• Auscultate after inspection so you do not produce false
bowel sound through percussion or palpation;
auscultate for bowel sounds (normal, hyper- or hypo-active) and bruits. Begin by dividing the abdomen
into 4 quadrants, by drawing an imaginary line vertically and horizontally across the abdomen, to
intersect at the umbilicus. This will divide the abdomen into:
• Right Upper Quadrant (RUQ)
• Left Upper Quadrant (LUQ)
• Right Lower Quadrant (RLQ)
• Left Lower Quadrant (LLQ)
(Jarvis, 2012).
Auscultation should begin in the right lower quadrant. If bowel sounds are not heard, in order to determine if
bowel sounds are truly absent, listen for a total of five minutes (Jarvis, 2012).
To listen to bowel sounds, click here for a YouTube video.
Assessing the Abdomen/Gastrointestinal System
• Percuss for general tympany, liver span, splenic dullness
(dullness over the spleen), costovertebral angle
tenderness, presence of fluid wave and shifting dullness
with ascites
• Palpate lightly then deeply noting any muscle guarding,
rigidity, masses or tenderness (tender areas last)
• Palpate the liver margins (often it is not palpable)
• Palpate the spleen (enlargement occurs with
mononucleosis and trauma)
• Palpate the kidneys (enlargement may indicate a mass)
• Assess for rebound tenderness (pain on release of pressure to the abdomen usually indicates
peritoneal irritation)
• When acute abdominal pain is present perform the iliopsoas muscle test and obturator test (Jarvis,
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Musculoskeletal System
When assessing the musculoskeletal system, examine the following:
• Inspect the size and shape of any problem joints (color, swelling, masses, deformities)
• Palpate each joint for temperature and range of motion (heat, tenderness, swelling, masses, limitation
in range of motion, crepitation)
• Test muscle strength and strength against resistance of the major muscle groups of the body
• Assess the temporomandibular joint (swelling, crepitus, pain)
• Assess the cervical spine (alignment of head and neck, symmetry of muscles, tenderness, spasms,
range of motion)
• Inspect and assess upper extremity strength and range of motion for the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and
• Inspect and assess lower extremity strength and range of motion for the hips, knees, ankles and feet
(Jarvis, 2012)
Test Yourself
When testing the musculoskeletal system you should test muscle strength and strength against resistance of
the major muscle groups.
A. True
B. False
The correct answer is: A. True.
Male Reproductive System
When examining the reproductive systems, ask about the
• Do you urinate more than usual? (frequency, urgency,
• Any pain or burning upon urination?
• Any difficulty starting or maintaining the stream of urine?
• Any difficulty controlling your urine?
• Any blood in your urine?
• Any problems with your penis? (pain, lesions, discharge)
• Any problems with your scrotum? (lumps, tenderness,
• Are you in a sexually active relationship and if so any
difficulties in this relationship related to the physical act of
• Do you use contraceptives? (what type, questions or
• Any sexual contact with a partner whom may have had a
sexually transmitted disease?
• Do you perform self-testicular examinations monthly?
(Jarvis, 2012)
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Assessing the Male Reproductive System
When assessing the male reproductive system, examine the following:
• Inspect and palpate the penis (inflammation, lesions, freely moveable foreskin in uncircumcised male,
location of urinary meatus, pubic lice or nits, narrowed urethral opening)
• Inspect and palpate the scrotum (scrotal edema, lesions or inflammation, absent, atrophied or fixed
testes, tenderness of testicle or spermatic cord)
• Inspect and palpate for hernia
• Inspect and palpate inguinal lymph nodes
• Discuss and encourage self-testicular exams monthly (Jarvis, 2012)
Female Reproductive System
When examining the reproductive systems, ask about the following:
• Do you urinate more than usual? (frequency, urgency, nocturia); Any pain or burning upon urination?
• Any difficulty starting or maintaining the stream of urine?
• Any blood in your urine? Any difficulty controlling your urine?
• Any unusual vaginal discharge?
• Are you sexually active? Any difficulties related to the physical act of intercourse?
• Do you use contraceptives? (what type, questions or concerns).
• Any sexual contact with a partner whom may have had a sexually transmitted disease?
• Tell me about your menstrual history (onset, length, amount of flow, cramps, bloating, PMS, age of
first period, age of menopause).Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
• Have you ever been pregnant? (if so how many times, how many live births, any miscarriages or
abortions, any complications).
• Have your periods slowed down or stopped? (associated symptoms of menopause, estrogen
replacement therapy, psychological well-being).Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.
• Any breast tenderness, lumps, discharge or concerns? Do you perform self-breast examinations
• Do you have regular PAP smears? (Jarvis, 2012).
Assessing the Female External Genitalia
The complete female reproductive system examination is usually only performed by specially trained nurses or
a physician. Please consider the following when examining the female reproductive system:
In the lithotomy position examine the external genitalia:
• Skin color
• Hair distribution
• Labia and clitoris (swelling, lesions)
• Urethral opening (stricture, inflammation)
• Vaginal opening (foul-smelling discharge, inflammation, lesions)
• Palpate the vagina (tenderness, swelling, discharge, Bartholin’s glands)

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Assessing the Female Internal Genitalia
The internal genitalia are only examined by specially trained healthcare providers, but you may be requested
to assist with a vaginal examination. This would include assisting with the speculum to visualize the cervix
(color, position, size, cervical os, surface of cervix, cervical secretions), and obtaining cervical smears and
cultures. A bimanual (rectal – vaginal) exam may be performed to rule out rectal disease.

Cervix should be smooth, firm, round, and mobile. Uterus and adnexa should not be enlarged, tender, fixed,
or nodular. Ovaries are often not palpable, but if they are, they should be small, round and smooth. Your
patient may feel a slight pang or twinge upon palpation and should resolve quickly (Jarvis, 2012).Advanced Physical Assessment Module Essay.

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