Over 50 years ago, the nurse practitioner profession emerged to meet the health care needs of underserved communities. Today, nurse practitioners continue to fill a vital role in providing health care, as a growing number of states have given them full practice authority (FPA). With FPA, nurse practitioners can evaluate patients, diagnose, order, and interpret diagnostic tests, and initiate treatment. In the past, physicians traditionally performed those duties, but today more and more patients are relying on nurse practitioners.
As part of their practice, nurse practitioners follow a collection of physical assessment guidelines and techniques, such as HEENT, to evaluate and diagnose patients. But what does HEENT stand for, and what are the duties and responsibilities of nurse practitioners?
Physical Assessment Guidelines Nurse Practitioners Use on a Daily Basis
Nurse practitioners’ duties can vary according to their specific roles and work settings. However, their responsibilities will inevitably involve assessing patients to diagnose and begin treatment. Like physicians, nurse practitioners can order diagnostic tests and prescribe medication, but nurse practitioners tend to take a more holistic approach to care, focusing on patients and their environments as a whole. Because patients usually first interact with nurse practitioners, these providers have a unique opportunity to build rapport with patients. The trust established during these initial encounters can impact the quality of communication between patients and health care providers, which can affect the quality of care delivered. This makes the work of nurse practitioners especially important.
To ensure they are making accurate diagnoses, nurse practitioners must first effectively assess patients. The online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and post-master’s certification coursework offered by Regis College prepare nurse practitioners to use a collection of techniques to skillfully and thoroughly physically assess patients.
The HEENT Exam
After checking a patient’s vital signs as the first part of a general physical examination, nurses may perform a HEENT (head, eyes, ears, nose, and throat) exam. This assessment requires the use of specific devices, such as an otoscope or tongue depressor, which help nurse practitioners gather important information about the patient’s state of health. This can eventually lay the foundation for the initial development of a patient’s care strategy.
Vital signs include a patient’s body temperature, blood pressure, respiration rate, and pulse. They measure the performance of the body’s most basic functions, which can reveal key information about a patient’s health. This information can further focus a nurse practitioner’s care strategy options.
Inspection, Palpation, Percussion, Auscultation
Nurse practitioner exams can range from comprehensive assessments involving physical exams and researching patient medical history to focused assessments that focus on a specific health concern. Regardless of exam type, nurse practitioners utilize one or more of the following techniques:
● Inspection: The nurse practitioner examines the patient to gather vital information for care strategy development.
● Palpation: The nurse practitioner touches the patient’s skin, allowing them to gather information on elements like a patient’s sensitivity to touch, temperature, and internal organs.
● Percussion: The nurse practitioner taps on tender areas of the patient’s body to elicit sounds that might indicate underlying problems.
● Auscultation: The nurse practitioner places a stethoscope on the patient’s bare skin to listen to the heart, lungs, or abdomen and take note of functionality.
The Neurological Exam
A neurological exam evaluates the health of a patient’s brain and spinal cord, as well as the nerves connected to them. This can be performed during routine checkups or if a patient has undergone a trauma or complains of symptoms like headaches or blurry vision. Information yielded from this exam can allow the nurse to identify or rule out various underlying patient issues.
Family Medical History
Understanding their family medical histories is also important, as it can reveal key information about diseases with genetic components. This information can enable the nurse practitioner to tailor a care strategy that’s mindful of a patient’s current health and their risk factors. It’s equally vital for nurse practitioners to approach gathering this information with cultural sensitivity and an understanding of privacy in mind.
The Essential Skills for an NP
It’s not enough for a nurse practitioner to have a grasp of basic information such as what HEENT stands for. They need to possess a well-honed skill set that can not only allow them to provide high-quality assessments to patients, but can also enable them to execute other common nurse practitioner duties, such as test result analysis and evaluating patient response to treatment strategies.
It’s important for nurse practitioners to have strong critical-thinking and decision-making skills, as they can be tasked with making important decisions in a fast-paced environment. They must also have impeccable detail-oriented and organizational skills to properly keep track of sensitive data. Because nurse practitioners often work in senior positions, solid leadership skills are also critical.
Additionally, a nurse practitioner must be equipped with several key soft skills to deliver high-quality care. For instance, nurse practitioners should have exceptional interpersonal skills to effectively interact with patients, families, and other health care professionals. They must also have strong communication skills to ensure vital information gets discussed clearly and without ambiguity.
Because of the sensitive nature of health care, it’s also important for nurse practitioners to have compassion and empathy. Earning an advanced degree such as Regis College’s online Master of Science in Nursing can allow nursing professionals to develop a strong foundation of nursing and soft skills, which can ultimately help them deliver the type of high-quality care that can improve patient outcomes.
NP Degree and Certification
After completing a graduate-level nursing degree program, nurses must seek certification from a recognized board to receive licensure. This requires passing a national certification exam to demonstrate competency in the field. Nurses can attain nurse practitioner certification in family nursing, psychiatric and mental health, emergency care, and adult gerontology, among other areas of focus.
Meeting patients’ needs requires the right skill set. The online Master of Science in Nursing program at Regis College equips students with the knowledge and skills to deliver high-quality health care.
American Association of Nurse Practitioners
AMN Healthcare Education Services
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
Clinical Advisor, “50 Years of the Nurse Practitioner Profession”
John Hopkins Medicine, Vital Signs
National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Nursing Admission Assessment and Examination”
University of Virginia School of Medicine, “HEENT Exam”