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Two Questions that Students Must Be Asked Each Clinical to THINK More Like a Nurse

By January 4, 2018February 1st, 2019No Comments

I have been blogging every week for the past four years and as I looked back over 2017, this blog published last January was my top post that educators read.

Start 2018 strong by reviewing this helpful post that can help your students get practice ready by being able to think more like a nurse!

Though I was an experienced nurse,  I thought I had it all figured out as a brand-new clinical educator.

I assumed what students needed to develop to be prepared for practice was to practice the SKILLS  that were taught in school.

Why have only a couple of students pass meds when all of them needed this experience! Therefore most of my students gave meds every clinical and I even looked for opportunities to insert catheters and nasogastric tubes.

This emphasis would prepare my students for practice, right?


I was a living example of the wisdom contained in Benner’s Novice to Expert theory. Just as novice nurses are task oriented because of their clinical experience (Benner, 1982), I too was no different and TASK oriented as a novice nurse educator.

What is the Main Point of Clinical Education?

The overall objective of clinical education is to prepare students to be SAFE in clinical practice.

This includes fundamental aspects of safety such as the “rights” of medication administration, but also an emphasis on applying and integrating clinical reasoning to think more like a nurse when providing patient care.

There are two essential components of clinical reasoning that can be asked as a QUESTION to students, so you have a starting point to introduce this nurse thinking skill in your clinical setting.

  1. What clinical data is relevant and why? (recognizing relevance)
  2. What is your nursing priority? This includes nursing care as well as educational priorities to be taught to the patient and/or family.

These questions must consistently be asked throughout the clinical day as students collect data from the chart, collect the first set of vital signs and assessment data, as well as at the end of the clinical day with any possible changes.

But like any skill taught in nursing, PRACTICE is required to think more like a nurse using these two components of clinical reasoning

You can strengthen these aspects of clinical reasoning by using the first case study in my brand-new series of three sequential case studies titled Clinical Reasoning 123.

This is the beginning of case study #1: Recognizing RELEVANCE and PRIORITY Setting:

Sepsis Case Study

Sepsis is an insidious killer that often goes unrecognized until it is too late. To help students recognize signs of EARLY sepsis that is progressing to septic shock, let’s use my case study on sepsis and see if you or our your students can recognize RELEVANT clinical data in this scenario.

History of Present Problem:

Jean Kelly is an 82-year-old woman who has been feeling more fatigued the last three days and has had a fever the previous twenty-four hours. She reports a painful, burning sensation when she urinates as well as the frequency of urination the last week. Her daughter became concerned and brought her to the emergency department (ED) when she did not know what day it was. She is mentally alert with no history of confusion. While taking her bath today, she was weak and unable to get out of the tub and used her life alert button to call for medical assistance.

The nurse collects the following data:

T: 101.8 F/38.8 C (oral)
P: 110 (regular)
R: 24 (regular)
BP: 102/50
O2 sat: 98% room air


Pain Scale:

Provoking/Palliative: Nothing/Nothing
Quality: Ache
Region/Radiation: Right flank
Severity: 5/10
Timing: Continuous


The nurse recognizes the need to validate his/her concern of fluid volume deficit and performs a set of orthostatic VS and obtains the following:

Position: HR: BP:
Supine 110 102/50
Standing 132 92/42


Current Assessment:  
GENERAL APPEARANCE: Resting comfortably, appears in no acute distress
RESP: Breath sounds clear with equal aeration bilaterally, nonlabored respiratory effort
CARDIAC: Pink, warm and dry, no edema, heart sounds regular-S1S2, pulses strong, equal to palpation at radial/pedal/post-tibial landmarks
NEURO: Alert and oriented x2-is not consistently oriented to date and place, c/o dizziness when she sits up
GI: Abdomen soft/nontender, bowel sounds audible per auscultation in all four quadrants
GU: Dysuria and frequency of urination persists, right flank tenderness to gentle palpation
SKIN: Skin integrity intact, lips dry, oral mucosa tacky dry


Recognizing RELEVANCE

What nurse collected clinical data did you recognize as relevant and why? In order to think like a nurse by using clinical reasoning, relevant clinical data must first be identified and then correctly interpreted (Tanner, 2006).

In this scenario, what clinical data is RELEVANT?

These are my observations (fully developed answer key with rationale included in purchased case study)

History Present Problem:

  • More fatigued for the last three days
  • Fever the previous 24 hours
  • Painful, burning sensation when she urinates as well as frequency of urination the last week
  • Did not know what day it was. She is mentally alert with no history of confusion
  • While taking her bath today, she was weak and unable to get out of the tub and used the help button to call for medical assistance.


  • T: 101.8 F/38.8 C (oral)
  • P: 110 reg.
  • R: 24
  • BP: 102/50
  • MAP: 67

Pain Scale:

  • Right flank pain, continuous, 5/10

Ortho BPs:

Supine 110 102/50
Standing 132 92/42
  • Heart rate increased >20 beats with change of position
  • SBP decreased with change of position
  • Therefore this is a POSITIVE orthostatic finding

Nursing Assessment

  • NEUROLOGIC: Alert and oriented x2-is not consistently oriented to date and place. c/o dizziness when she sits up
  • GENITOURINARY: dysuria and frequency of urination persists,
  • right flank tenderness to gentle palpation
  • SKIN:  Skin integrity intact, lips dry, oral mucosa tacky dry


Once relevant clinical data is recognized, now the nurse needs to do something. The following four questions close out this brief clinical reasoning case study:

  1. What is the primary problem that your patient is most likely presenting?
  2. What nursing priority(ies) will guide your plan of care?
  3. What interventions will you initiate based on this priority?
  4. What educational/discharge PRIORITIES will be needed to develop a teaching plan for this patient and/or family?

How Did You Do?

Because this case study is open-ended it is readily apparent if relevant clinical data was missed by students.

How did you do?

Whether you are a student or educator were you able to recognize and identify relevant clinical data?

By using other topics, you can practice this is an essential component of clinical reasoning in the safety of your classroom or clinical post-conference setting.

How to Use

This case study is case study #1 in my new series Clinical Reasoning 1-2-3 that are THREE short, sequential case studies that are only 2-3 pages and can be completed in about 15-20 minutes start to finish.

This makes it possible to easily integrate as an active learning tool after teaching on a topic related to this case study.

If you are teaching in the clinical setting, during post-conference, once a reflection of the clinical day has taken place, finish strong and use this case study for the last 15 minutes to practice clinical reasoning with a topic relevant to your clinical setting.

In Closing

To clinically reason, students must be able to recognize relevant clinical data as well as interpret this data correctly by identifying correct nursing priorities.

Use my new series of Clinical Reasoning 1-2-3 to develop and practice the thinking of this essential skill.

When clinical reasoning is understood, applied and used by students in the clinical setting you will have accomplished the primary objective of clinical education; student safety.

Safety is much more than just the rights of safe medication administration but requires that students can clinically reason and prevent complications from progressing needlessly by rescuing their patient before it is too late.

Other Top Blogs of 2017 to Check Out!

What do you think?
How have you brought relevant, active learning to your classroom?
Comment below and let the conversation begin!Want More? Get Clinical Reasoning 1-2-3!

I posted my series of THREE sequential clinical reasoning case studies that allow PRACTICE of the nurse thinking skill of clinical reasoning. The highlights of each case study include:

Case Study/Step #1: Recognize RELEVANCE and PRIORITIES

Emphasizes the essence of clinical reasoning and the importance of identifying and interpreting RELEVANT clinical data of the initial scenario, VS, assessment, and labs to establish the correct nursing priority.

Case Study/STEP #2: Recognize Clinical RELATIONSHIPS.

Builds on the essence of clinical reasoning by emphasizing the nurse thinking skill of recognizing clinical relationships. These relationships include in part, the RELATIONSHIP of the past medical history and current medications, the RELATIONSHIP between RELEVANT present problem data and the primary medical problem and four more that students must know!

Case Study/STEP #3: Care Like a Nurse by Providing Holistic Care.

Emphasizes the importance of holistic care and the relevance of the “art” of nursing by addressing psychosocial priorities and how caring, empathy, engagement, therapeutic communication can be utilized to provide holistic care.

A New Resource to Help Nurse Educators

There is no such thing as a born nurse educator. It takes time and implementing educational best practice in your program.

Check out my new book for educators TEACH Students to THINK Like a Nurse.

Filled with numerous best-practice strategies and time-saving tools to teach students to think like a nurse using clinical reasoning in the class and clinical settings!

How to Help Students Make an Entitled Attitude Adjustment!

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