Any medical student wonders how to improve patient assessment skills and clinical competencies. Patient assessment skills are essential for any aspiring or practicing doctor in a clinical setting. Patient assessment skills are an important subject not only for your medical school examinations and evaluations, but demonstrating good patient assessment competencies can snag you a spot in the most competitive residency programs out there. In this blog, we’ll explore what patient assessment skills are, why they’re important, how to improve patient assessment skills and who can help you.

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Article Contents
5 min read

What patient assessment skills are What makes a good patient assessment? Why patient assessment skills need work Strategies for improving your patient assessment skills Professional help with patient assessment skills FAQs

What patient assessment skills are

As a medical student, resident doctor or practicing physician, patient assessment skills are the bedrock of your abilities and skillset. Interacting with patients, assessing their symptoms and situation is diagnosing the problem will be the essence of your work as a future doctor. Your assessment of your patients is the initial part of the process of gathering information, utilizing your medical knowledge, making a diagnosis and a plan for treatment. Patient assessment skills draw on the collection and interpretation of information from diverse sources, including not just medical information and knowledge but physical exams, medical tests and the patient themselves.

As a medical student, you’ll begin by learning the theory of patient assessment, treatment and interaction. Once you begin preparing for your clinical rotations, you’ll be able to put this theory into practice and start cultivating your patient assessment skills. After you start your residency years, your patient assessment skills will become even more necessary as you hone and improve them in a clinical setting.

Patient assessment skills are a sort of investigation, as they seek to gather information, analyze and discuss a problem and its potential solution. They require consulting the depth and breadth of your medical knowledge to find the answers. If the entirety of medical knowledge is a great tree, the investigation requires starting at the root of the problem, working your way up into the branches and then identifying the particular leaf where the problem lies. And, like an investigation, you might sometimes hit a dead end or take a wrong turn and need to go back to the beginning to retrace your thinking.

What makes a good patient assessment?

A good patient assessment leads to an accurate diagnosis and therefore effective treatment plan for the patient in question. So what does a good assessment contain? In short, a good patient assessment should be consistent, valid and as free of bias or assumption as possible.

For an assessment to be reliable and consistent, it needs to be stable. What this means is treating each and every patient you come across largely the same way. There are circumstances which require flexibility or an adaptation to your approach, such as if the patient is a minor or if the patient otherwise requires special handling. But mainly, for a consistent assessment treat each patient with respect and follow the steps of a routine patient assessment.

By making an assessment valid, it simply means that every patient assessment has an objective to be met. In the medical field, this objective is to locate and diagnose the problem, form a solution and execute treatment. In short, a good patient assessment seeks to find the root of a problem a patient experiences.

Lastly, a good patient assessment is as free of an examiner’s bias as much as possible. Objectivity and professionalism are key to a good patient assessment. With a field as diverse as medicine, it can be easy to think that every case of appendicitis is the same, showing the same symptoms and warning signs across the board. But it can also be easy to forget that the hundredth case of appendicitis might present strange symptoms or present itself differently than expected. By eschewing bias and previous assumptions about a case before and during the patient assessment, you can tackle each case as it comes to you and avoid drawing to a wrong conclusion.

Why patient assessment skills need work

As you venture through medical school, clinical training and its diverse challenges, you’ll be given plenty of opportunities to develop and improve your patient assessment skills in a supervised setting. But whether you’re still a premed, medical student, resident or beyond, patient assessment skills can also use a tune up.

A career in medicine involves continuous learning, and developing a deeper understanding of your patients, understanding not just how their symptoms affect them physically and the textbook definition of ailments will improve your skill as a doctor. Improving your patient assessment skills can help you understand how your patients are affected emotionally and mentally by the physical symptoms they experience and how to provide a more nuanced and improved patient experience overall.

Aside from bettering your skill as a physician, good patient assessment skills are a necessity to pass your OSCE, ace your rotations in med school, succeed in getting matched for residency, and excel in your medical career. Developing your assessment skills early on will only help prepare you for a clinical setting, your residency years, and to become a practicing doctor. Having these skills locked and loaded for exams as well is a huge step up when you’re studying, too.

Want to know more about the most competitive residency programs? Watch the video below.

Strategies for improving your patient assessment skills

The importance and necessity of strong patient assessment skills can’t be disputed. They’re not only necessary for your academic success in med school and your professional success in a clinical setting, they’re foundational skills you’ll use every day as a practicing doctor. Of course, patient assessment skills comprise both technical, hard skills that can be learned and practiced, as well as the soft skills of communication and teamwork that aren’t so easily taught.

Patient assessment skills comprise a complex bevy of talents, and its rare that we are blessed with all of them in equal measure. Some don’t consider themselves to have a stellar bedside manner, while others haven’t mastered the art of a smooth needle insertion. Below we’ll take a look at some advice to improving your patient assessment skills on both sides of the spectrum.

Professional help with patient assessment skills

Outside of the medical school experience, there are other ways to improve your patient assessment skills. There are plenty of medical textbooks and information available, specifically designed for med students, you can read that aren’t always included in your curriculum.

Aside from books, there are also many online workshops and elective courses you can take which focus solely on patient assessment skills and the patient experience. These are both free and paid programs, but they can be a nice addition to your formal medical education if you feel your patient assessment skills need some work.

Developing a relationship with a medical mentor or taking advantage of simulation training are also good options. Technology is often used to train med students on the more technical skills of medicine, and simulation training exists for patient assessment as well. When studying for exams like the OSCE or USMLE Step 3, simulations can be the best way to learn and retain the information you need. Also, having a mentor to learn from and seek advice from can help you identify which areas of your assessment skills need work and how you can improve them.


1. What are patient assessment skills?

Patient assessment skills are part of the foundation of any medical professional’s competencies. Patient assessment skills encompass how doctors examine, diagnose and treat patients in their care. 

2. Why are patient assessment skills important?

Patient assessment skills are not only necessary to becoming a good doctor, but they are also crucial to passing medical exams, succeeding in a clinical setting and becoming “practice ready”.

3. What can I do to improve patient assessment skills?

There are many things you can do to improve your patient assessment skills, but the best way is to start practicing and start early. 

4. What’s the best way to improve patient assessment skills?

Cultivating a relationship with your patients, utilizing the entirety of your medical knowledge and skills, and taking advantage of help from your colleagues are some of the best ways to improve your patient assessment skills.

5. What makes a good patient assessment?

A good patient assessment should be consistent, diagnose the problem, and be as unbiased as possible.

6. What are the steps of patient assessment?

Patient assessment usually starts with an evaluation of a patient’s medical information, a physical exam or a head-to-toe assessment, and then usually leads to a diagnosis and formulation of a treatment plan.

7. What is the most important skill you need to have when assessing a patient?

The most important skill you need when assessing a patient is to have a mindset of solving the problem. Your patient assessment’s purpose is to find a suitable solution and formulate a treatment plan for the patient, so the most important thing to do is to commit yourself to analyzing the information, deducing the issue and proposing the fix.

8. How can I improve my head-to-toe assessment?

Practice is the simplest way to improve your head-to-toe physical assessment skills. Often, you’ll be learning through observation, but when it’s your turn to demonstrate our skills, don’t be afraid to hop into the driver’s seat.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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