The purpose of pre-service nursing education programs is to prepare competent graduates who are able to function as safe, professional registered nurses. An extensive element of these programs is the teaching of physical assessment skills, with most programs educating students to perform over 120 such skills. Previous research from North America suggests that the majority of skills taught to nurses in their pre-service programs are not used in practice. As part of a larger study, an online survey was used to explore use of 121 physical assessment skills by Australian nurses. Recruitment occurred via mailed invitation to members of the Australian Nursing Federation. Data were extracted from 1220 completed questionnaires returned by nurses who were mostly employed in New South Wales, were female and experienced nurses. Respondents indicated that they used only 34% of skills routinely. Results reinforce evidence found in the literature that many of the skills taught to nurses are either not used at all (35.5%) or are used rarely (31%). These findings have implications for the teaching of physical assessment skills in pre-service nursing programs, and raise questions about the value of extensive skills teaching in the context of contemporary health care. Further research into barriers to the use of physical assessment skills in nursing and the need for comprehensive skills preparation for the generalist nurse is likely to offer some solutions to these questions
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