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Table 2 Development of basic physical assessment skills over the 3-year nursing programme

From: Revitalizing physical assessment in undergraduate nursing education - what skills are important to learn, and how are these skills applied during clinical rotation? A cohort study

Physical assessment skills Mean (SD), Median Cohen’s d effect size
1st year 2nd year 3rd year 1–2 year 1–3 year
Heart and peripheral circulation
 Inspect extremities for skin colour/hair growth 4.51 (1.17), 5 5.13 (3.69), 5 4.73 (1.05), 5 0.22 0.19
 Palpate distal pulses 3.62 (0.96), 4 4.28 (1.12), 4 4.22 (1.07), 4 0.63* 0.59*
 Count pulses a,b 4.23 (2.57), 4 5.14 (0.80), 5 4.99 (0.87), 5 0.48 0.39
 Palpate for oedema a,b 3.65 (1.16), 4 4.20 (1.06), 4 4.38 (0.99), 4 0.50* 0.67*
 Palpate and inspect capillary refill a,b 2.78 (1.21), 3 3.76 (1.21), 4 3.77 (1.11), 4 0.80* 0.85*
 Estimate skin fold a,b 2.86 (0.94), 3 3.30 (1.08), 3 3.56 (0.91), 4 0.43 0.75*
 Evaluate extremities for skin sensation a,b 2.30 (1.10), 2 3.10 (1.15), 3 2.92 (0.87), 3 0.71* 0.62*
 Assess fine motor skills 2.62 (1.27), 2 2.98 (1.23), 3 2.98 (0.96), 3 0.28 0.31
 Take blood pressure b,c 3.91 (1.04), 4 3.61 (1.09), 4 4.29 (1.09), 4 -0.28 0.35
 Auscultate heart sounds 2.52 (1.02), 2 2.32 (1.01), 2 2.57 (0.88), 2 -0.19 0.05
 Auscultate carotid artery 2.60 (0.91), 2 2.52 (1.16), 2 2.76 (0.97), 3 -0.07 0.17
Thorax
 Inspect thorax for shape, breathing effort a,b 3.55 (1.16), 4 4.45 (1.25), 5 4.31 (1.06), 4 0.74* 0.68*
 Count respiratory rate a,b,c 3.99 (0.91), 3 5.57 (0.65), 6 5.09 (0.87), 5 1.99* 1.23*
 Inspect thorax for skin colour/scar a,b 4.28 (1.22), 4 5.13 (0.83), 5 5.97 (0.77), 5 0.83* 1.63*
 Palpate thorax wall for thoracic expansion and vocal fremitus a,b 2.82 (1.03), 3 3.41 (1.34), 3 3.27 (1.07), 3 0.50* 0.42
 Percuss the lungs b 2.41 (0.79), 2 2.52 (1.02), 2 2.87 (0.93), 3 0.12 0.53*
 Auscultate lungs 2.70 (0.86), 3 2.76 (1.02), 3 3.13 (0.99), 3 0.06 0.46
 Assess SpO2a,b 3.83 (1.31), 4 5.63 (0.66), 6 5.03 (1.02), 5 1.73* 1.02*
Abdomen
 Inspect abdomen a,b 2.95 (1.21), 3 3.87 (1.06), 4 3.74 (1.07), 4 0.80* 0.69*
 Auscultate abdomen for bowel sounds b 2.61 (0.86), 2,5 2.90 (1.06), 3 3.02 (0.92), 3 0.30 0.46
 Light abdominal palpation a,b 2.62 (0.89), 3 3.13 (1.05), 3 3.36 (0.90), 3 0.52* 0.82*
 Deep abdominal palpation 2.21 (0.78), 2 2.65 (1.00), 2 2.70 (0.90), 3 0.49 0.58*
 Percuss the abdomen b 2.36 (0.79), 2 2.52 (0.99), 2 2.77 (0.81), 3 0.17 0.51*
 Percuss for kidney tenderness a,b 2.05 (0.84), 2 2.41 (0.97), 2 2.57 (0.81), 2 0.39 0.63*
Neurology
 Evaluate CN I-XII 1.82 (0.88), 2 1.88 (1.73), 1 2.20 (1.09), 2 0.04 0.38
 Evaluate muscle strength, atrophy, tone 2.63 (1.13), 2 2.73 (1.26), 3 2.79 (1.06), 3 0.08 0.14
 Evaluate sensation of touch a,b 2.28 (1.12), 2 2.89 (1.2), 3 2.96 (0.91), 3 0.52* 0.66*
 Assess coordination and balance 3.16 (1.13), 3 3.43 (1.46), 3 3.32 (1.23), 3 0.20 0.13
 Evaluate patella and plantar reflexes 2.25 (0.67), 2 2.36 (0.77), 2 2.47 (0.80), 2 0.15 0.29
  1. amean difference is significant at the 0.016 level between 1st - 2nd year
  2. bmean difference is significant at the 0.016 level between 1st - 3rd year
  3. cmean difference is significant at the 0.016 level between 2nd - 3rd year
  4. *Cohen’s d effect size above 0.5