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What Makes a Good Family Nurse Practitioner Health Assessment?

by Carson-Newman … on July 30, 2019
Nurse writing on clipboard at a desk

Learn more about Carson-Newman's online family nurse practitioner program.

For active practitioners and nursing students alike, good health assessment skills are essential for a Family Nurse Practitioner. As health care providers that assess, diagnose, and treat patients, excellent assessment skills obtained through a Master of Science in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner program serve as the foundation for providing great patient care.

Good assessment skills are important, but exactly what makes someone good at conducting a family nurse practitioner health assessment (also called a head-to-toe exam)?

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Attention to Detail

Details are important when it comes to completing patients' health histories and head-to-toe exams. Nurse practitioner students must be able to perform a head-to-toe examination objectively, gathering the details, and then piecing them together when diagnosing the patient. It's important to have a comprehensive picture of your patient's health, because their chief complaint may be related to one of their known conditions, or it may be a symptom of an entirely new issue.

Attention to detail is even more important when determining how to focus a family nurse practitioner health assessment. It's necessary to assess the patient as a whole, but specific issues warrant more specific examination of body systems. A patient presenting with a sore throat should have a thorough HEENT (head, ears, eyes, nose, throat) exam, for example.

Clinical Reasoning

Clinical reasoning is a key aspect of a family nurse practitioner health assessment. For example, if you hear "crackles" while listening to a patient's breathing, you might also want to examine the patient's legs for swelling that can be caused by heart failure and fluid overload. Clinical reasoning is the process of collecting information from a patient's health history and examination to arrive at a conclusion, or a diagnosis.

Nurse practitioner students usually have the benefit of having already exercised their clinical reasoning skills during their training and experience as registered nurses. An accredited online MSN-FNP program such as the one offered at Carson-Newman helps students take their skills even further through study and practice.

Clinical Decision Making

Clinical decision making as a nurse practitioner is a step forward from decision making as an RN. Family nurse practitioners' expanded role allows them to order tests to aid them in making a diagnosis, and ordering treatments to remedy the patient's diagnosis. FNPs must know and FNP students must learn how to properly diagnose and treat different illnesses and conditions, and know which tests will aid in the differential diagnosis of each one.

Sharpening Your Assessment Skills

Carson-Newman's advanced nurse practitioner health assessment course and the clinical experiences afforded to students during clinical rotations help aspiring FNPs to hone their attention to detail. Students' ability to exercise their clinical reasoning skills and practice their clinical decision making skills in a safe environment provide them with the foundation needed to make a good health assessment.

Carson-Newman University's Online MSN-FNP program incorporates clinical experiences into clinical rotations and the advanced health assessment course. As part of these clinical hours, students are matched with a preceptor and clinical site for clinical rotations, and will have the opportunity to meet their peers and professors during one three-day on-campus residency for the NURS 507: Advanced Health Assessment course exam.

Getting Started

Carson Newman's MSN-FNP program coursework is completed online, putting higher education within reach for working nurses. Interested in a rewarding career as a Family Nurse Practitioner? Our helpful enrollment advisors are happy to discuss your career goals and help you find the right path for you - contact us today!


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