Chapter 7: Clinical Skills: From Novice to Expert

About the Author:
Mark Aquino is a registered nurse in California with a Bachelors of Science in Nursing and Masters of Health Administration from West Coast University. He has at least 5 years of experience in the front lines as a visiting nurse in home health and hospice in direct patient care. He is author of OASIS NINJA: A Home Health Nurse’s Guide to Visits, Documentation, and Positive Patient Outcomes. This guide provides nurses with the information they need to provide quality care to their patients in the comfort of their own homes. He also writes books about how to live a good life and how to improve yourself on a daily basis such as Self Help Transformation: An Evidence-Based Approach to Personal Transformation for Mental Health, Physical Fitness, Relationships, and Career. You can also find all his books here. Learn more at

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Chapter 4: Clinical Skills: From Novice to Expert

The heart of nursing education lies in the transition from theory to practice. You will embark on a journey that transforms you from a nursing novice into a confident and proficient clinician. This chapter explores the art of clinical practice, building unwavering confidence in clinical settings, and mastering essential clinical skills and competencies.

The Art of Clinical Practice

Clinical practice is where nursing theory comes to life. It’s where you interact with patients, their families, and the healthcare team, providing care, making decisions, and continuously learning. In this section, you’ll delve into:

  • Patient-Centered Care: The core of nursing practice is centered on the patient. You’ll learn how to prioritize patients’ needs, preferences, and values, fostering trust and therapeutic relationships.
  • Critical Thinking: The ability to think critically and make clinical judgments is essential. You’ll explore the processes of assessment, analysis, planning, intervention, and evaluation, honing your clinical decision-making skills.
  • Evidence-Based Practice: The importance of integrating current evidence into your practice. This involves staying up-to-date with the latest research and applying evidence-based interventions to optimize patient outcomes.
  • Ethical Practice: Nursing ethics and ethical decision-making are integral. You’ll learn to navigate ethical dilemmas, uphold patient autonomy, and maintain confidentiality and integrity in clinical settings.

Building Confidence in Clinical Settings

Entering the clinical setting as a nursing student can be intimidating. Building confidence is a gradual process that involves:

  • Preparation: Adequate preparation is the foundation of confidence. You’ll discover how thorough preparation, including reviewing patient information and practicing skills, can boost your confidence.
  • Effective Communication: Communication is at the core of nursing practice. You’ll explore techniques for effective communication with patients, families, and healthcare team members, enhancing your ability to convey information and provide emotional support.
  • Clinical Mentorship: Mentorship from experienced nurses is invaluable. You’ll discover the benefits of working with clinical preceptors who can guide your learning and provide feedback.
  • Reflective Practice: Reflection on your clinical experiences is a powerful tool for growth. You’ll learn how to analyze your actions, identify areas for improvement, and continuously evolve as a nurse.

Essential Clinical Skills and Competencies

Registered nurses require a wide range of psychomotor skills to provide safe and effective patient care. These skills encompass physical actions and procedures that nurses perform in clinical settings. Here is a list of psychomotor skills that registered nurses need to know and practice:

Vital Signs Assessment:

  • Measuring and recording temperature, pulse, respirations, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation.

Medication Administration:

  • Administering medications through various routes (oral, intravenous, intramuscular, subcutaneous, etc.).
  • Calculating medication dosages.
  • Ensuring accurate drug identification.
  • Monitoring and assessing for adverse drug reactions.

Intravenous (IV) Therapy:

  • Inserting and maintaining peripheral IV catheters.
  • Administering IV fluids and medications.
  • Monitoring IV sites for complications.

Wound Care:

  • Wound assessment and management, including cleaning, dressing changes, and wound measurement.
  • Knowledge of different types of dressings and their appropriate use.


  • Inserting and managing urinary catheters (Foley catheters) for both male and female patients.
  • Performing sterile catheterization procedures.

Nasogastric (NG) Tube Insertion and Care:

  • Inserting NG tubes for enteral feeding or gastric decompression.
  • Ensuring proper tube placement and monitoring for complications.

Tracheostomy Care:

  • Performing tracheostomy care, including suctioning and changing tracheostomy ties.
  • Assessing for signs of respiratory distress.

Oxygen Administration:

  • Administering oxygen therapy via nasal cannula, face mask, or other delivery methods.
  • Monitoring oxygen saturation levels.

Assisting with Mobility:

  • Safely transferring and repositioning patients.
  • Using proper body mechanics to prevent injury.

Basic Life Support (BLS):

  • Performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on adults, children, and infants.
  • Using automated external defibrillators (AEDs) during cardiac arrest situations.

Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS):

  • Administering advanced cardiac life support interventions during cardiac emergencies.


  • Drawing blood samples for laboratory testing.
  • Inserting peripheral IV lines.

Chest Tube Management:

  • Inserting and managing chest tubes for patients with pneumothorax or pleural effusion.
  • Monitoring chest drainage and assessing for complications.

Nursing Documentation:

  • Accurately documenting patient assessments, interventions, and responses to treatment.
  • Maintaining comprehensive and organized patient records.

Surgical and Sterile Techniques:

  • Maintaining sterile fields during surgical procedures.
  • Assisting surgeons during surgeries.

Orthopedic Care:

  • Applying and managing casts and splints.
  • Assessing neurovascular status in patients with orthopedic injuries.

Feeding Tube Insertion and Care:

  • Inserting and caring for feeding tubes (e.g., nasogastric, gastrostomy, jejunostomy).
  • Administering enteral feedings.

Pain Management:

  • Administering pain medications and assessing pain levels.
  • Implementing non-pharmacological pain relief measures.

Ventilator Management:

  • Managing and monitoring patients on mechanical ventilation.
  • Suctioning endotracheal or tracheostomy tubes.

Neurological Assessment:

  • Assessing neurological status, including the Glasgow Coma Scale.
  • Performing cranial nerve assessments.

Assisting with Labor and Delivery:

  • Providing care to expectant mothers during labor and delivery.
  • Monitoring fetal heart rate and contractions.

Perioperative Care:

  • Preparing patients for surgery and postoperative care.
  • Assisting in the operating room during surgical procedures.

Urinary Bladder Catheterization:

  • Inserting urinary catheters for urinary retention or surgical procedures.


  • Drawing blood for laboratory tests and diagnostic purposes.

Emergency Response:

  • Responding to various emergency situations, including code blue, rapid response, and disaster response.

These psychomotor skills are a fundamental part of a registered nurse’s repertoire, and mastering them is crucial for providing safe and competent patient care in a variety of healthcare settings. Nurses continually refine and update their skills to stay current with evolving healthcare practices and technology.

Vital Signs Assessment for Nurses: Measuring and Recording Temperature, Pulse, Respirations, Blood Pressure, and Oxygen Saturation

Vital signs assessment is a fundamental aspect of nursing practice, providing critical information about a patient’s overall health and well-being. This assessment involves the measurement and recording of five key vital signs: temperature, pulse, respirations, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation. Each vital sign offers unique insights into a patient’s physiological status and helps nurses monitor changes that may indicate underlying health issues or responses to treatment. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to perform and document vital signs assessment effectively:

1. Temperature Measurement:

Purpose: Temperature measurement assesses the body’s ability to regulate heat. It’s an essential indicator of infection, inflammation, or other medical conditions.

Tools: Use a digital or tympanic thermometer for oral, axillary (armpit), or ear measurements, or a temporal artery thermometer for temporal measurements.


  1. Explain the Procedure: Communicate with the patient, explaining the purpose of temperature measurement and ensuring their cooperation.
  2. Select the Appropriate Site: Choose the appropriate site based on the patient’s condition and hospital protocols (e.g., oral, axillary, ear, temporal).
  3. Prepare the Thermometer: Ensure the thermometer is clean and in good working order.
  4. Position the Patient: Have the patient sit or lie down comfortably, ensuring they have not consumed hot or cold beverages recently.
  5. Perform the Measurement: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific thermometer type.
  6. Record the Temperature: Document the recorded temperature in the patient’s medical record, along with the site and time of measurement.

2. Pulse Assessment:

Purpose: Pulse assessment evaluates the heart’s rate and rhythm, providing insights into cardiovascular health and circulatory status.

Tools: Use a stethoscope and a watch with a second hand, or an electronic pulse oximeter.


  1. Explain the Procedure: Communicate with the patient, explaining the purpose of pulse assessment and ensuring their cooperation.
  2. Select the Pulse Site: Common pulse sites include the radial (wrist), brachial (elbow), carotid (neck), femoral (groin), popliteal (behind the knee), dorsalis pedis (top of the foot), and posterior tibial (ankle).
  3. Prepare the Equipment: Ensure the stethoscope is clean and functioning correctly.
  4. Position the Patient: Have the patient sit or lie down comfortably with the chosen limb exposed.
  5. Locate the Pulse: Place your fingers or the stethoscope’s diaphragm over the chosen pulse site. Apply gentle pressure until you can feel or hear the pulse.
  6. Measure the Pulse: Count the number of beats in 60 seconds for an accurate pulse rate. Alternatively, count beats for 15 seconds and multiply by four to obtain the rate.
  7. Assess the Pulse Rhythm: Note if the pulse is regular or irregular in rhythm.
  8. Record the Pulse: Document the pulse rate, site, and rhythm in the patient’s medical record.

3. Respiratory Rate Assessment:

Purpose: Respiratory rate assessment evaluates the patient’s breathing pattern, depth, and frequency, providing insights into respiratory function and potential issues.

Tools: A watch with a second hand or a digital timer.


  1. Explain the Procedure: Communicate with the patient, explaining the purpose of respiratory rate assessment and ensuring their cooperation.
  2. Position the Patient: Have the patient sit or lie down comfortably, with their chest and abdomen visible.
  3. Prepare the Equipment: Ensure you have a functioning watch or timer.
  4. Observe the Respirations: Count the number of complete breaths (inhalation and exhalation) in 60 seconds for an accurate respiratory rate.
  5. Assess Respiratory Depth: Observe whether the patient’s breathing is shallow, deep, or normal.
  6. Note Any Abnormalities: Pay attention to signs of irregular or labored breathing, such as wheezing or use of accessory muscles.
  7. Record the Respiratory Rate: Document the respiratory rate and any relevant observations in the patient’s medical record.

4. Blood Pressure Measurement:

Purpose: Blood pressure measurement assesses the force of blood against the walls of arteries, providing insights into cardiovascular health and blood circulation.

Tools: A sphygmomanometer (aneroid or mercury) and a stethoscope.


  1. Explain the Procedure: Communicate with the patient, explaining the purpose of blood pressure measurement and ensuring their cooperation.
  2. Position the Patient: Have the patient sit or lie down comfortably with their arm supported at heart level.
  3. Prepare the Equipment: Ensure the sphygmomanometer and stethoscope are clean and functional.
  4. Select the Cuff Size: Choose an appropriate cuff size based on the patient’s arm circumference.
  5. Apply the Cuff: Wrap the cuff around the patient’s upper arm, ensuring it is snug but not too tight.
  6. Locate the Brachial Artery: Use a stethoscope to locate the brachial artery, which is typically found just below the cuff.
  7. Inflate the Cuff: Inflate the cuff by squeezing the bulb until it is about 20-30 mmHg above the patient’s expected systolic pressure.
  8. Slowly Deflate the Cuff: Gradually release the pressure in the cuff while listening for the first Korotkoff sound (systolic pressure) with the stethoscope.
  9. Continue Deflation: Keep releasing the pressure until the Korotkoff sounds disappear (diastolic pressure).
  10. Record the Blood Pressure: Document the recorded blood pressure (systolic/diastolic), the arm used, and the patient’s position in the medical record.

5. Oxygen Saturation Measurement:

Purpose: Oxygen saturation (SpO2) assessment measures the percentage of hemoglobin saturated with oxygen, indicating respiratory and circulatory function.

Tools: Pulse oximeter (finger or ear probe).


  1. Explain the Procedure: Communicate with the patient, explaining the purpose of oxygen saturation measurement and ensuring their cooperation.
  2. Prepare the Equipment: Ensure the pulse oximeter is clean and functional.
  3. Position the Probe: Place the probe (finger or ear) on the patient, following manufacturer instructions.
  4. Allow Time for Reading: Wait for the pulse oximeter to provide a stable reading, usually within a few seconds.
  5. Read the SpO2: Note the oxygen saturation percentage displayed on the pulse oximeter.
  6. Assess for Accuracy: Ensure that the SpO2 reading is within the expected range for the patient’s condition.
  7. Record the Oxygen Saturation: Document the SpO2 reading and any relevant observations in the patient’s medical record.

Important Tips for Vital Signs Assessment:

  • Maintain a calm and reassuring demeanor to help patients feel comfortable during the assessment.
  • Follow institutional protocols and guidelines for vital signs assessment.
  • Regularly assess vital signs based on the patient’s condition, physician orders, and nursing judgment.
  • Document vital signs accurately, including the time and date of each assessment.
  • Report any abnormal vital signs promptly to the healthcare team for further evaluation and intervention.
  • Continuously monitor and reassess vital signs in patients with unstable or critical conditions.

A comprehensive and accurate vital signs assessment is a cornerstone of nursing practice, guiding clinical decision-making, identifying changes in a patient’s condition, and contributing to the delivery of safe and effective patient care. Nurses should prioritize regular and systematic vital signs assessments as part of their daily responsibilities in various healthcare settings.

Medication Administration for Nurses: Ensuring Safe and Effective Drug Delivery

Medication administration is a crucial responsibility for nurses, requiring precision, attention to detail, and a deep understanding of pharmacology. Administering medications through various routes and ensuring patient safety is paramount. Here’s an in-depth guide on how nurses perform medication administration:

1. Administering Medications through Various Routes:

Oral Medications:

  • Oral medications are taken by mouth and include tablets, capsules, liquids, and sublingual or buccal forms.
  • Procedure:
  • Check the medication order and the patient’s identity.
  • Administer the medication with water or as prescribed (e.g., with food).
  • In sublingual or buccal administration, place the medication under the tongue or against the cheek and ensure it dissolves.

Intravenous (IV) Medications:

  • IV medications are delivered directly into the bloodstream, providing rapid drug absorption.
  • Procedure:
  • Verify the medication order, IV line compatibility, and patient identification.
  • Calculate the correct dosage and dilution if necessary.
  • Administer the medication via a controlled IV infusion pump or by manually controlling the flow rate.
  • Monitor the patient for any adverse reactions during and after administration.

Intramuscular (IM) and Subcutaneous (SC) Injections:

  • IM and SC injections involve injecting medication into muscle tissue (IM) or beneath the skin (SC).
  • Procedure:
  • Confirm the medication order and patient identity.
  • Calculate the correct dosage and select an appropriate needle size and site.
  • Administer the injection using a clean technique, aspirating for blood (IM), and massaging the site (SC).
  • Ensure proper disposal of needles and syringes.

2. Calculating Medication Dosages:

Accurate dosage calculation is vital to prevent medication errors. Nurses must understand various systems of measurement (e.g., metric, household) and be proficient in calculating dosages based on patient weight, age, and the prescribed medication. Common calculations include determining the volume of liquid medications, converting units, and adjusting dosages for pediatric or geriatric patients.

3. Ensuring Accurate Drug Identification:

Verifying the correct medication is essential to prevent errors. Nurses must check medication labels, compare them with the medication order, and confirm the patient’s identity before administration. This includes checking the medication’s name, dosage, route, expiration date, and any specific patient considerations (e.g., allergies or contraindications).

4. Monitoring and Assessing for Adverse Drug Reactions:

Vigilance in monitoring patients for adverse drug reactions (ADRs) is a crucial aspect of medication administration. Nurses should:

  • Educate patients about expected side effects and potential ADRs.
  • Continuously assess patients for signs of ADRs, such as allergies, rash, nausea, vomiting, or changes in vital signs.
  • Report ADRs promptly to the healthcare team and document them accurately.

Additional Medication Administration Considerations:

  • Patient Education: Nurses should provide clear instructions to patients about how to take their medications, including timing, dosage, and potential side effects. Patients must understand the importance of medication adherence.
  • Documentation: Thorough and accurate documentation is crucial. Nurses should record the medication administered, route, time, and any patient responses or adverse reactions in the patient’s medical record.
  • Medication Reconciliation: Nurses play a vital role in medication reconciliation, ensuring that patients’ current medications match their medication orders and that any discrepancies are addressed with the healthcare team.
  • Safe Practices: Nurses should follow best practices for medication administration, including hand hygiene, using the rights of medication administration (right patient, right medication, right dose, right route, right time), and adhering to infection control procedures.
  • High-Alert Medications: Extra precautions are necessary when administering high-alert medications, such as double-checking calculations and confirming the patient’s identity and allergies.
  • Pediatric and Geriatric Considerations: Administering medications to pediatric and geriatric patients requires special considerations, including dosage adjustments based on age and weight and using appropriate equipment.

Medication administration is a multifaceted and critical aspect of nursing practice. Nurses must remain vigilant, continuously update their knowledge of pharmacology, and prioritize patient safety to ensure that medications are administered accurately and effectively, contributing to positive patient outcomes.

Intravenous (IV) Therapy: Ensuring Fluid and Medication Delivery

Intravenous (IV) therapy is a cornerstone of modern healthcare, allowing for the direct administration of fluids, medications, and blood products into a patient’s bloodstream. Nurses play a pivotal role in initiating and maintaining peripheral IV catheters and ensuring safe and effective IV therapy. Here’s a detailed look at IV therapy and related nursing responsibilities:

Inserting and Maintaining Peripheral IV Catheters:

Peripheral IV catheters are thin, flexible tubes inserted into a peripheral vein, typically in the hand, arm, or forearm. Nurses are responsible for the safe insertion and maintenance of these catheters.

Procedure for Insertion:

  1. Gather Supplies: Ensure you have the appropriate catheter size, IV tubing, antiseptic solution, and dressing.
  2. Assess the Vein: Select a suitable vein based on factors like vein size, patient preference, and the prescribed therapy.
  3. Prepare the Site: Cleanse the site with an antiseptic solution and allow it to dry.
  4. Insert the Catheter: Use a sterile technique to insert the catheter into the vein at a shallow angle. Once it’s in the vein, advance it slightly, and then secure it in place.
  5. Connect the IV Tubing: Attach the IV tubing to the catheter hub and ensure there are no air bubbles.
  6. Secure the Catheter: Apply a sterile dressing to secure the catheter and maintain a clean and dry site.
  7. Monitor the Site: Regularly assess the IV site for signs of complications, such as redness, swelling, or infiltration.

Administering IV Fluids and Medications:

Once the IV catheter is in place, nurses are responsible for administering IV fluids and medications accurately.

Procedure for Medication Administration:

  1. Confirm the Medication Order: Verify the medication order, dosage, and compatibility with the IV fluids.
  2. Prepare the Medication: Follow proper medication preparation techniques, ensuring accurate dosage and aseptic technique.
  3. Administer the Medication: Administer the medication at the prescribed rate, following any specific instructions (e.g., push slowly or infuse over a set time).
  4. Monitor the Patient: Continuously assess the patient for any adverse reactions during medication administration.

Monitoring IV Sites for Complications:

Ongoing assessment of the IV site is crucial to detect complications promptly and ensure patient safety. Complications may include phlebitis (inflammation of the vein), infiltration (fluid leaking into surrounding tissues), or infection.

Wound Care: Comprehensive Assessment and Management:

Nurses are also responsible for wound care, which involves the assessment and management of various types of wounds, such as surgical incisions, pressure ulcers, and traumatic injuries.

Wound Assessment:

  1. Inspect the Wound: Carefully examine the wound for signs of infection, inflammation, or delayed healing.
  2. Measure the Wound: Record the wound’s dimensions (length, width, depth) to monitor healing progress.
  3. Document Findings: Document the wound assessment findings, including any drainage, odor, or changes in tissue color.

Wound Management:

  1. Cleaning the Wound: Cleanse the wound with a suitable solution to remove debris and bacteria. Use a gentle technique to avoid tissue damage.
  2. Dressing Changes: Apply appropriate wound dressings based on the wound type and characteristics. Dressings may vary from basic gauze to specialized products like hydrocolloids or foams.
  3. Infection Prevention: Implement infection control measures to prevent wound infections. This includes sterile technique during dressing changes and antibiotic therapy when indicated.
  4. Monitoring Progress: Continuously assess the wound for signs of healing, infection, or complications.

Knowledge of Different Types of Dressings:

Nurses need to have a comprehensive understanding of various wound dressings and their appropriate use. Different dressings provide specific benefits, such as maintaining a moist wound environment, managing exudate, or promoting tissue granulation.

Catheterization: Inserting and Managing Urinary Catheters:

Catheterization involves the insertion and management of urinary catheters, commonly referred to as Foley catheters, to assist with bladder drainage.

Procedure for Insertion:

  1. Explain the Procedure: Communicate with the patient, explaining the purpose of catheterization and ensuring their cooperation.
  2. Gather Supplies: Assemble the necessary catheterization supplies, including a sterile catheter kit, lubricating jelly, and a drainage bag.
  3. Prepare the Patient: Ensure the patient is in a comfortable position, typically in a supine or semi-Fowler’s position.
  4. Perform Hand Hygiene: Cleanse your hands thoroughly and maintain sterile technique throughout the procedure.
  5. Insert the Catheter: Insert the catheter into the urethra and advance it into the bladder, while monitoring for proper placement using sterile technique.
  6. Secure the Catheter: Secure the catheter to the patient’s thigh or abdomen, ensuring it remains in place.
  7. Connect the Drainage Bag: Connect the catheter to a drainage bag, ensuring proper drainage and preventing backflow.
  8. Monitor the Patient: Continuously monitor the patient for any signs of discomfort, infection, or catheter-related complications.

Performing Sterile Catheterization Procedures:

Sterile technique is paramount during catheterization procedures to minimize the risk of infection. Nurses must adhere to strict aseptic practices throughout the entire process.

Nasogastric (NG) Tube Insertion and Care:

Nasogastric (NG) tube insertion and care are essential nursing skills, often used for enteral feeding or gastric decompression in patients who are unable to take oral nutrition. Proper placement and vigilant monitoring for complications are crucial aspects of NG tube management.

Inserting NG Tubes:

  1. Explain the Procedure: Communicate with the patient or their caregiver, explaining the purpose of the NG tube and obtaining informed consent if necessary.
  2. Gather Supplies: Assemble the necessary supplies, including the NG tube, lubricating jelly, tape, syringe, and a glass of water.
  3. Position the Patient: Ensure the patient is in an upright position (usually sitting or semi-Fowler’s) to facilitate tube passage.
  4. Perform Hand Hygiene: Cleanse your hands thoroughly and don appropriate personal protective equipment.
  5. Measure and Lubricate: Measure the NG tube from the tip of the nose to the earlobe and then to the xiphoid process. Lubricate the end of the tube with a water-soluble lubricating jelly.
  6. Insert the Tube: Gently insert the tube into the nares while instructing the patient to swallow sips of water to aid passage.
  7. Confirm Placement: After insertion, confirm proper placement by auscultating for air entry in the stomach while injecting air with a syringe and aspirating stomach contents.
  8. Secure and Label: Secure the NG tube to the patient’s nose and label it with the insertion date, length, and reason for insertion.
  9. Begin Feeding or Decompression: Begin enteral feeding or connect the tube to a suction device for gastric decompression as ordered.
  10. Monitor for Complications: Continuously assess the patient for signs of discomfort, tube dislodgment, or complications such as aspiration or tube blockage.

Tracheostomy Care:

Tracheostomy care involves the management of a surgically created opening in the trachea, often used for patients requiring prolonged mechanical ventilation or those with compromised airways. Nurses must perform tracheostomy care to prevent complications and maintain airway patency.

Procedure for Tracheostomy Care:

  1. Explain the Procedure: Communicate with the patient and ensure their understanding of the care process.
  2. Gather Supplies: Assemble the necessary supplies, including sterile gloves, sterile saline, tracheostomy care kit, and clean dressing materials.
  3. Perform Hand Hygiene: Cleanse your hands thoroughly and don sterile gloves.
  4. Assess the Site: Inspect the tracheostomy site for any signs of infection, skin breakdown, or irritation.
  5. Suction the Tracheostomy Tube: Use a sterile suction catheter to remove secretions and maintain a clear airway. Ensure proper suction pressure and duration to prevent trauma.
  6. Change the Dressing: Carefully remove the old dressing and clean the area around the tracheostomy with sterile saline. Apply a new sterile dressing.
  7. Inspect the Tube: Ensure the tracheostomy tube is secure and in proper position. Assess the tube for any signs of damage or malfunction.
  8. Assess Respiratory Status: Monitor the patient for any signs of respiratory distress, such as increased respiratory rate or difficulty breathing.
  9. Reposition the Patient: Reposition the patient to a comfortable and safe position, ensuring that the tracheostomy tube is not under tension.
  10. Documentation: Accurately document the tracheostomy care procedure, including any observations, complications, or changes in the patient’s condition.

Oxygen Administration:

Oxygen administration is a common nursing intervention to support patients with respiratory insufficiency. Nurses must ensure proper oxygen delivery and monitor oxygen saturation levels to optimize patient care.

Procedure for Oxygen Administration:

  1. Assess Oxygen Needs: Evaluate the patient’s oxygen requirements through clinical assessment and pulse oximetry.
  2. Select the Delivery Device: Choose the appropriate oxygen delivery device based on the patient’s condition, such as a nasal cannula, face mask, or non-rebreather mask.
  3. Set the Flow Rate: Adjust the oxygen flow rate as prescribed by the healthcare provider or based on the patient’s oxygen saturation levels.
  4. Place the Device: Properly position the selected oxygen delivery device on the patient, ensuring a secure and comfortable fit.
  5. Monitor Oxygen Saturation: Continuously monitor the patient’s oxygen saturation levels using a pulse oximeter. Adjust the oxygen flow rate as needed to maintain target saturation levels.
  6. Educate the Patient: Educate the patient about the purpose of oxygen therapy, encourage deep breathing exercises, and ensure the patient understands the importance of device placement and compliance.

Assisting with Mobility:

Mobility assistance is a critical aspect of nursing care, especially for patients with limited mobility. Nurses must employ proper body mechanics and safe transfer techniques to prevent injury to both patients and themselves.

Procedure for Assisting with Mobility:

  1. Assess Mobility Needs: Evaluate the patient’s mobility status and identify any limitations or contraindications to movement.
  2. Plan for Mobility: Develop a plan for patient mobility, considering factors like the patient’s strength, balance, and any assistive devices required (e.g., walkers or wheelchairs).
  3. Communicate: Clearly communicate the plan with the patient, including step-by-step instructions and any necessary precautions.
  4. Use Proper Body Mechanics: Maintain proper body mechanics by using your legs, not your back, to lift or move the patient. Avoid twisting your body during transfers.
  5. Assist the Patient: Provide physical assistance as needed, ensuring the patient is safe and comfortable throughout the mobility activity.
  6. Monitor for Signs of Discomfort: Continuously assess the patient for any signs of discomfort or distress during mobility activities and make necessary adjustments.
  7. Ensure Safety: Ensure that the environment is clear of obstacles and hazards, and use any necessary mobility aids (e.g., gait belts) to enhance safety.

Basic Life Support (BLS):

Basic Life Support (BLS) skills are essential for nurses to respond effectively to cardiac arrest situations in various patient populations.

Procedure for BLS:

  1. Assess Responsiveness: Determine if the patient is responsive by tapping their shoulders and shouting for a response.
  2. Activate Emergency Response: If the patient is unresponsive, activate the emergency response system (call for help).
  3. Check for Breathing: Assess the patient’s breathing by looking for chest rise and fall and listening for breath sounds.
  4. Initiate Chest Compressions: If the patient is not breathing or breathing abnormally, start high-quality chest compressions. Place your hands on the lower half of the sternum and perform compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute.
  5. Provide Rescue Breaths: If trained and confident, provide rescue breaths after every 30 compressions using a pocket mask or bag-valve-mask device.
  6. Continue CPR: Continue the cycle of chest compressions and rescue breaths until the patient regains consciousness, emergency medical personnel arrive, or you are physically unable to continue.

Use of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs):

AEDs are vital tools for administering electric shocks to patients experiencing sudden cardiac arrest, potentially restoring normal heart rhythm.

Procedure for Using AEDs:

  1. Turn on the AED: Power on the AED and follow the device’s voice or visual prompts.
  2. Attach Electrode Pads: Attach the AED electrode pads to the patient’s bare chest as indicated by the device’s instructions.
  3. Analyze Heart Rhythm: Allow the AED to analyze the patient’s heart rhythm. Ensure that no one is touching the patient during this process.
  4. Follow AED Instructions: If the AED advises a shock, ensure that no one is in contact with the patient and press the shock button as directed.
  5. Resume CPR: After a shock, resume CPR starting with chest compressions. Follow the AED’s prompts for further analysis and shocks if necessary.

Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS):

ACLS involves advanced interventions for managing cardiac emergencies, including administering medications and advanced airway management.

Procedure for ACLS:

  1. Assess the Patient: Evaluate the patient’s cardiac rhythm and overall condition.
  2. Administer Medications: Administer ACLS medications as prescribed, considering factors like drug dosages and routes.
  3. Advanced Airway Management: If necessary, perform advanced airway interventions such as endotracheal intubation or supraglottic airway insertion.
  4. Defibrillation and Cardioversion: Administer electrical defibrillation or synchronized cardioversion as needed to correct abnormal heart rhythms.
  5. Follow ACLS Algorithms: Follow specific ACLS algorithms based on the patient’s rhythm (e.g., ventricular fibrillation, pulseless ventricular tachycardia, bradycardia, asystole) and the healthcare provider’s orders.
  6. Team Dynamics: Coordinate with other healthcare providers in a structured team approach, ensuring efficient and effective care.

These nursing skills, ranging from NG tube insertion and care to BLS and ACLS, are essential components of providing high-quality patient care. Nurses should continuously update their knowledge and proficiency in these areas to ensure the best outcomes for their patients.

Venipuncture: Precision in Blood Collection and IV Insertion

Venipuncture is a foundational skill for nurses, encompassing the delicate art of drawing blood samples and the essential task of inserting peripheral IV lines for various medical purposes.

Drawing Blood Samples:

  1. Patient Preparation: Begin by explaining the procedure to the patient and ensuring their comfort.
  2. Gather Supplies: Collect the necessary equipment, including vacutainer tubes, a tourniquet, alcohol swabs, needles, and a blood collection holder.
  3. Select the Vein: Assess the patient’s veins, selecting the most appropriate one for blood collection based on accessibility and suitability.
  4. Apply Tourniquet: Apply a tourniquet proximal to the chosen vein to engorge it.
  5. Cleanse the Site: Thoroughly cleanse the site with an alcohol swab to prevent infection.
  6. Venipuncture: With the needle and blood collection holder, puncture the vein at a shallow angle, ensuring a clean entry.
  7. Collect Blood: Allow blood to flow into the collection tubes, ensuring they are properly labeled.
  8. Remove Tourniquet: Release the tourniquet to allow normal blood flow and prevent hematoma formation.
  9. Secure the Site: After blood collection, apply gentle pressure and a sterile bandage to the puncture site to stop bleeding and prevent infection.
  10. Dispose of Sharps: Dispose of sharps safely in a designated container.

Inserting Peripheral IV Lines:

  1. Patient Assessment: Evaluate the patient’s clinical condition and vascular status, selecting the most suitable site for IV insertion.
  2. Prepare Supplies: Gather IV catheters, sterile dressings, transparent dressings, and securement devices.
  3. Hand Hygiene and Gloves: Perform hand hygiene and don sterile gloves.
  4. Tourniquet Application: Apply a tourniquet to locate and assess the veins.
  5. Vein Selection: Select an appropriate vein, considering factors like size, location, and patient comfort.
  6. Skin Preparation: Cleanse the site with an antiseptic solution, maintaining a sterile field.
  7. Catheter Insertion: Use proper technique to insert the catheter into the vein at the correct angle, ensuring that the catheter advances while the needle is withdrawn.
  8. Secure Catheter: Secure the catheter in place with a transparent dressing and a securement device.
  9. Flush and Cap: Flush the catheter with saline and cap it to maintain patency.
  10. Document: Accurately document the IV insertion, including the site, catheter size, and patient response.

Chest Tube Management

Chest tubes are crucial for managing conditions like pneumothorax or pleural effusion, requiring precision in insertion and vigilant monitoring.

Procedure for Chest Tube Management:

  1. Patient Assessment: Evaluate the patient’s respiratory status and indications for chest tube insertion.
  2. Informed Consent: Obtain informed consent from the patient or their authorized representative.
  3. Prepare Supplies: Gather chest tube kits, sterile drapes, sutures, and dressings.
  4. Site Selection: Select the appropriate site for chest tube insertion, typically in the pleural space.
  5. Sterile Technique: Maintain strict sterile technique throughout the procedure, including draping the site.
  6. Chest Tube Insertion: Make an incision at the chosen site, insert the chest tube into the pleural space, and suture it in place.
  7. Connect to Drainage System: Connect the chest tube to a drainage system, ensuring proper drainage.
  8. Monitoring and Assessment: Continuously monitor chest drainage, assessing for any changes in fluid characteristics, volume, or air leaks.
  9. Complication Management: Be prepared to address complications such as pneumothorax, hemorrhage, or infection promptly.
  10. Patient Education: Educate the patient and family about chest tube care, drainage monitoring, and potential complications.

Nursing Documentation: Comprehensive Record-Keeping

Accurate nursing documentation is essential for maintaining organized patient records, tracking interventions, and ensuring continuity of care.

Documentation Guidelines:

  1. Timeliness: Document promptly after completing assessments, interventions, and patient interactions.
  2. Clarity: Use clear and concise language, avoiding jargon or abbreviations that may be unclear.
  3. Objectivity: Record objective data and facts, avoiding personal opinions or judgments.
  4. Accuracy: Ensure that documentation reflects the patient’s condition accurately.
  5. Completeness: Include all relevant information, including patient responses to interventions.
  6. Legibility: Write or type documentation legibly to prevent misinterpretation.
  7. Signature and Authentication: Sign entries with your full name and credentials. Authenticate entries as per institutional policies.

Surgical and Sterile Techniques: Aseptic Precision

Maintaining a sterile field during surgical procedures and assisting surgeons require meticulous attention to aseptic technique.

Sterile Technique:

  1. Hand Hygiene: Perform thorough hand hygiene before entering the sterile field.
  2. Sterile Attire: Wear sterile gowns, gloves, and masks as appropriate for the procedure.
  3. Sterile Field: Maintain a sterile field by avoiding contact with non-sterile items or surfaces.
  4. Sterile Supplies: Handle sterile instruments and supplies with care, using aseptic techniques.
  5. Communication: Collaborate effectively with the surgical team to maintain a sterile environment.

Orthopedic Care: Supporting Recovery

Nurses play a vital role in orthopedic care, ensuring proper application and management of casts, splints, and assessing neurovascular status in patients with orthopedic injuries.

Orthopedic Care Guidelines:

  1. Cast and Splint Application: Follow orthopedic protocols for applying casts and splints, ensuring proper immobilization.
  2. Neurovascular Assessment: Regularly assess neurovascular status in patients with orthopedic injuries, checking for changes in sensation, circulation, and movement.
  3. Patient Education: Educate patients about cast or splint care, signs of complications, and follow-up appointments.
  4. Assistance with Mobility: Assist patients in safe mobility techniques, using proper body mechanics to prevent further injury.

Feeding Tube Insertion and Care: Nutritional Support

Feeding tube insertion and care are vital for patients who cannot take oral nutrition, requiring precise insertion and maintenance.

Procedure for Feeding Tube Insertion and Care:

  1. Patient Assessment: Evaluate the patient’s nutritional needs and indications for tube feeding.
  2. Tube Selection: Choose the appropriate type of feeding tube (e.g., nasogastric, gastrostomy, jejunostomy) based on patient requirements.
  3. Sterile Technique: Maintain a sterile technique during tube insertion.
  4. Tube Insertion: Insert the feeding tube through the selected route, ensuring proper placement.
  5. Feeding Administration: Administer enteral feedings per the healthcare provider’s orders.
  6. Tube Care: Ensure proper tube care, including securing the tube, checking for placement, and preventing clogs.
  7. Patient Education: Educate patients and caregivers about feeding tube care, hygiene, and potential complications.

Pain Management: Alleviating Suffering

Pain management is a core nursing responsibility, involving the administration of pain medications and implementing non-pharmacological pain relief measures.

Pain Management Principles:

  1. Pain Assessment: Assess pain using standardized tools, considering its intensity, location, and characteristics.
  2. Medication Administration: Administer pain medications as prescribed, ensuring appropriate dosages, routes, and intervals.
  3. Monitor Effectiveness: Evaluate the effectiveness of pain relief measures and adjust interventions as needed.
  4. Non-Pharmacological Approaches: Implement non-pharmacological pain relief measures such as positioning, relaxation techniques, and heat or cold therapy.
  5. Patient-Centered Care: Collaborate with patients to establish individualized pain management plans and address their concerns.

Ventilator Management: Providing Lifesaving Support

Ventilator management is a critical skill for nurses, involving the monitoring and care of patients on mechanical ventilation. It plays a pivotal role in supporting patients with respiratory insufficiency.

Ventilator Management Procedure:

  1. Patient Assessment: Evaluate the patient’s respiratory status, vital signs, and oxygenation levels.
  2. Ventilator Settings: Familiarize yourself with the ventilator settings, including tidal volume, respiratory rate, FiO2, and PEEP.
  3. Ventilator Checks: Perform regular ventilator checks to ensure proper functioning and alarms are set appropriately.
  4. Suctioning: Monitor and suction endotracheal or tracheostomy tubes as needed to maintain airway patency.
  5. Weaning Protocols: Follow established weaning protocols to assess the patient’s readiness for ventilator liberation.
  6. Documentation: Accurately document ventilator settings, patient response, and any changes in condition.

Neurological Assessment: Understanding Brain Health

Nurses perform neurological assessments to evaluate brain function and detect abnormalities. This includes assessing neurological status using tools like the Glasgow Coma Scale and conducting cranial nerve assessments.

Neurological Assessment Process:

  1. Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS): Use the GCS to assess a patient’s level of consciousness based on eye, verbal, and motor responses.
  2. Cranial Nerve Assessment: Perform a thorough cranial nerve assessment to evaluate sensory and motor functions, as well as cranial nerve reflexes.
  3. Reflex Testing: Assess deep tendon reflexes (e.g., patellar reflex) to gauge neurological function.
  4. Mental Status Examination: Evaluate cognitive function, memory, and orientation to time, place, and person.

Assisting with Labor and Delivery: Bringing New Life into the World

Assisting expectant mothers during labor and delivery is a profound aspect of nursing, requiring specialized skills and compassion.

Labor and Delivery Assistance:

  1. Fetal Monitoring: Use fetal heart rate monitors to continuously monitor the baby’s heart rate and uterine contractions.
  2. Comfort Measures: Assist with pain management techniques such as positioning, breathing exercises, and pain medications.
  3. Delivery Support: Provide emotional support and assistance to the laboring mother and medical team during delivery.
  4. Postpartum Care: Offer postpartum care to both the mother and newborn, including breastfeeding support and initial assessments.

Perioperative Care: Ensuring Safety in Surgery

Perioperative nurses are essential in preparing patients for surgery and providing care during and after surgical procedures.

Perioperative Care Steps:

  1. Preoperative Assessment: Assess the patient’s medical history, allergies, and current health status. Ensure that consent forms are signed.
  2. Surgical Preparation: Prepare the patient physically and emotionally for surgery, including administering preoperative medications.
  3. Intraoperative Support: Assist the surgical team by maintaining sterile conditions, handing instruments, and providing surgical supplies.
  4. Postoperative Care: Monitor the patient in the recovery room, assess vital signs, and manage pain and postoperative complications.

Urinary Bladder Catheterization: Promoting Comfort and Healing

Urinary bladder catheterization is a common nursing procedure used for urinary retention or surgical purposes.

Urinary Catheterization Procedure:

  1. Informed Consent: Obtain informed consent from the patient or their authorized representative.
  2. Patient Preparation: Position the patient comfortably and explain the procedure to alleviate anxiety.
  3. Sterile Technique: Maintain a sterile technique during catheter insertion to prevent infection.
  4. Catheter Insertion: Insert the urinary catheter into the bladder through the urethra or, in some cases, a suprapubic approach.
  5. Secure Catheter: Secure the catheter in place and ensure proper drainage into a collection bag.
  6. Monitoring: Continuously monitor urinary output and assess for complications, such as catheter-related infections.

Phlebotomy: Collecting Vital Diagnostic Information

Phlebotomy involves drawing blood for laboratory tests and diagnostic purposes, providing essential information for patient care.

Phlebotomy Procedure:

  1. Patient Identification: Confirm the patient’s identity using two patient identifiers.
  2. Gather Supplies: Collect the necessary phlebotomy equipment, including needles, tubes, and alcohol swabs.
  3. Venipuncture: Select an appropriate vein, cleanse the site, and perform venipuncture using proper technique.
  4. Blood Collection: Collect the required blood samples into appropriate tubes, ensuring proper labeling.
  5. Hemostasis: Apply pressure or dressing to the puncture site to stop bleeding.
  6. Sample Handling: Handle blood samples with care to preserve their integrity for laboratory analysis.
  7. Documentation: Accurately document the phlebotomy procedure, including the date, time, and any complications.

Emergency Response: Rapid and Effective Care in Crisis

Nurses must respond to various emergency situations, including code blue for cardiac arrest, rapid response for deteriorating patients, and disaster response for large-scale emergencies.

Emergency Response Steps:

  1. Assessment: Quickly assess the situation and the patient’s condition, initiating appropriate interventions.
  2. Communication: Alert the healthcare team and activate the appropriate response team (e.g., code blue or rapid response).
  3. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): Initiate CPR for cardiac arrest situations, following established protocols.
  4. Defibrillation: Use automated external defibrillators (AEDs) or manual defibrillators when indicated for shockable rhythms.
  5. Emergency Medications: Administer emergency medications as ordered, such as epinephrine for anaphylaxis or naloxone for opioid overdose.
  6. Coordination: Collaborate with the medical team, ensure clear communication, and follow emergency response algorithms.

These nursing skills, from ventilator management to emergency response, highlight the diverse and essential role nurses play in healthcare. Continuous training and practice are fundamental to nursing excellence in these critical areas.

Top Textbook Resources for Clinical Skills for Nursing Students

Mastering clinical skills is essential for nursing students to ensure patient safety and high-quality care. Here are some textbooks specifically focused on enhancing clinical skills:

Comprehensive Skills Textbooks

  1. “Clinical Nursing Skills and Techniques” by Anne Griffin Perry and Patricia A. Potter: This book is a comprehensive guide that includes step-by-step procedures for over 200 basic, intermediate, and advanced skills.
  2. “Nursing Skills Online Version 3.0 for Clinical Nursing Skills and Techniques” by Anne Griffin Perry and Patricia A. Potter: This online resource complements the textbook and offers videos, quizzes, and case studies.
  3. “Fundamentals of Nursing: The Art and Science of Patient-Centered Care” by Carol Taylor, et al.: While a broader nursing textbook, it has excellent sections dedicated to clinical skills.

Skill-Specific Textbooks

  1. “IV Therapy For Dummies” by Bettie Lilley Nosek: This book is a great resource for mastering intravenous therapy, a crucial nursing skill.
  2. “Physical Examination and Health Assessment” by Carolyn Jarvis: This text offers insights into performing thorough physical assessments.

Skills and Case Studies

  1. “Clinical Cases: Nursing care case studies” by Margaret Webb and Ellie Kirov: This textbook combines skill instruction with real-world case studies.
  2. “Skills in Clinical Nursing” by Audrey Berman and Shirlee J. Snyder: This book is particularly focused on clinical skills and includes both step-by-step procedures and rationales.

Simulation Learning

  1. “Simulation Learning System for Nursing Fundamentals” by Elsevier: This online simulation complements textbooks and clinical experiences by offering an immersive virtual experience.

Special Populations

  1. “Pediatric Nursing Skills & Procedures” by Anne L. Churchill and Barbara K. Timby: This book focuses on the clinical skills necessary for caring for pediatric populations.
  2. “Gerontology Nursing Case Studies” by Donna J. Bowles: If you’re interested in geriatric nursing, this book offers case studies and specific skills related to elderly care.

Exam Preparation and Review

  1. “Clinical Nursing Skills: A Concept-Based Approach, Volume III” by Barbara Callahan: This book serves both as a skills guide and a review manual for exams.
  2. Mosby’s Nursing Video Skills: Student Version DVD”: This is a DVD resource that complements textbook learning and provides visual step-by-step guides for various clinical skills.

By incorporating these textbooks and resources into your studies, you can strengthen your clinical skills, ensuring you’re well-equipped to provide the best patient care possible. Each resource offers a unique perspective or method of teaching, allowing you to find the ones that suit your learning style best.

About the Author:
Mark Aquino is a registered nurse in California with a Bachelors of Science in Nursing and Masters of Health Administration from West Coast University. He has at least 5 years of experience in the front lines as a visiting nurse in home health and hospice in direct patient care. He is author of OASIS NINJA: A Home Health Nurse’s Guide to Visits, Documentation, and Positive Patient Outcomes. This guide provides nurses with the information they need to provide quality care to their patients in the comfort of their own homes. He also writes books about how to live a good life and how to improve yourself on a daily basis such as Self Help Transformation: An Evidence-Based Approach to Personal Transformation for Mental Health, Physical Fitness, Relationships, and Career. You can also find all his books here. Learn more at

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