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There is debate around the scope of physical assessment skills that should be taught in undergraduate nursing programs. Yet this debate is largely uninformed by evidence on what is learned and practiced by nursing students. This study examined the pattern and correlates of physical assessment skill utilization by 208 graduating nursing students at an Australian university, including measures of knowledge, frequency of use, and perceived barriers to physical assessment skills during clinical practice. Of the 126 skills surveyed, on average, only five were used every time students practiced. Core skills reflected inspection or general observation of the patient; none involved complex palpation, percussion, or auscultation. Skill utilization was also shaped by specialty area. Most skills (70%) were, on average, never performed or learned and students perceived nursing physical assessment was marginalized in both university and workplace contexts. Lack of confidence was, thus, a significant barrier to use of skills. Based on these findings, we argue that the current debate must shift to how we might best support students to integrate comprehensive physical assessment into nursing practice.

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Journal Article

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