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How can student nurses develop their clinical assessment skills?

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As I was researching my last essay I came across a lot of literature arguing that assessment is the fundamental basis of mental health nursing.

Natalie Moore

It’s the activity that mental health nurses spend the most time doing, which makes sense as it allows us to plan therapeutic interventions. The general consensus was that assessment skills are developed with nursing experience. Other than that, it was very vague. How exactly do nurses develop these skills?

Further difficulty lies in the fact that mental health assessment can be very subjective. It’s easy to see if somebody’s pulse is fast or if their blood pressure is low, but it’s not as easy to assess whether somebody’s mental state is deteriorating or not.

This is where a nurse’s experience and knowledge is crucial in making a decision and why observing assessments is such an important learning experience.

Sometimes I was concerned that I wasn’t actively doing anything but as I progress through my course I can now recognise things I have picked up from observing my mentors.

When I’ve observed assessments I’ve asked my mentors which framework they use and more often than not they don’t use a specific one. Their questions are guided by the individual patient and their own experiences instead. I’ve only seen particular frameworks used twice in practice and it seems to be clustering tools than are standardised rather than the assessment itself. At this stage in my nursing career I find this a bit daunting as I worry that I won’t know what to say or I’ll forget something important.

Whilst observing assessments is important I think the best way to develop your skills is to get involved. On my current placement I have made it my objective to take a more active role in assessments so that I feel more comfortable and confident with them. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone was scary at first but I was so happy the first time I was able to assess a patient without second-guessing myself.

Natalie Moore is a student mental health nurse and Student Nursing Times editor for mental health nursing.

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