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 

Milligan, K., & Neville, S. (2003). The  contextualisation of health assessment. Nursing  Praxis in New Zealand    



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™.  

Key Words: 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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