Journal of Professional Nursing

The Contextualisation Of Health Assessment 

Kaye Milligan, RGON, MA (Hons), Dip Tchg (Tertiary), MCNA(NZ)  Lecturer, Faculty of Health and Sciences,  Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, Christchurch
Stephen Neville, RCpN, MA (Hons), FCNA(NZ)  Lecturer, School of Health Sciences - Albany, Massey University, Auckland 

Reference:  Milligan, K., & Neville, S. (2003). The contextualisation of health assessment. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 19(1), 23-31.


Health assessment is a term which is increasingly being applied within nursing in New Zealand, yet there is a lack of clarity about the meaning of this concept. This article seeks to define health assessment and claims that it is a tool nurses should be using as a means of improving health outcomes for clients. Nurses utilise interview skills, physical assessment skills and skills of critical analysis as well as documentation when performing a health assessment. Four different levels of data gathering for a health assessment are identified, providing a range of contexts where it is a useful tool. An historical perspective is also provided in order to contextualise health assessment and to trace the development of these skills as they have been incorporated into nurses’ practice in North America from the 1960s and in Australia from the 1980s. In New Zealand health assessment is now being taught in some undergraduate degree programmes, is included in some registered nurses’ practice, and advanced assessment competencies are now required of Nurse Practitioners™.  

Health assessment, physical assessment, nursing practice


There is no doubt that nursing practice is constantly evolving. The education and the practice of nurses centres around improving health outcomes for clients within a population focused health and disability sector. There is an increasing emphasis placed on the use of health assessment as an important aspect of nursing practice within the contemporary health environment. Within New Zealand there has been a proliferation of documents which make reference to the utilisation of health assessment skills at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels (KPMG Consulting, 2001; Nursing Council of New Zealand, 2001). References to the nurse of the future identify incorporating health assessment as one aspect of practice, however the concept has not been clearly defined.  Continued

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