Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

A Physical Assessment Skills Module on Vital Signs

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

A Physical Assessment Skills Module on Vital Signs

Article excerpt


The application of physical assessment skills is recognized as an important part of providing pharmaceutical care. (1-8) Advantages include being able to monitor and optimize medications more effectively, screen patients at risk for chronic disease states, promote better communication among health care practitioners, and improve our overall understanding of patient care. (6,7) As pharmacists' scope of practice continues to expand into more patient-centered roles, pharmacy education will require the incorporation of courses into the curriculum that will develop skills to fulfill such roles.

At present, most Canadian pharmacists have not received training in physical assessment skills. One survey reported 82.4% of Canadian pharmacists never received any type of formal training in conducting physical examinations. (7) The Association of Faculties of Pharmacy of Canada and the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy's Center for the Advancement of Pharmacy Education have identified the performance and interpretation of physical assessment findings as an educational outcome for pharmacy graduates of entry-to-practice pharmacy programs. (8,9) However, few reports have described strategies for implementing a physical assessment program in pharmacy education. (10-15) More specifically, many of the previous studies used surveys to assess student satisfaction with the implementation of a new program rather than to assess the impact of the program on student learning. Others have described the way in which a physical assessment course is integrated within an existing course. Only one study compared student-measured blood pressure readings to machine-measured readings, and no studies have specifically reported on common areas of difficulty in learning physical assessment skills for new learners in a skills laboratory environment. As a result, the purpose of this study was to implement a physical assessment skills module on vital signs for third-year pharmacy students enrolled in a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy program at the University of Manitoba, and to evaluate student learning of physical assessment skills.

Specific objectives of the study were: to evaluate students' objective knowledge of physical assessment skills based on the information provided in the online module; to compare the difference in blood pressure values obtained between a manual aneroid sphygmomanometer and an automated blood pressure machine when conducted by a third-year pharmacy student; and to identify common areas of difficulty in developing skills in obtaining a blood pressure reading with a manual aneroid sphygmomanometer.


A module on Skills in Physical Assessment focusing on vital signs was integrated into the Pharmacy Skills Laboratory 3 course for third-year pharmacy students (n=48) in the 2013-2014 academic year. The course was designed to apply and develop skills related to pharmacy practice using a wide range of interactive and collaborative learning strategies.

The physical assessment module consisted of 3 components: an online module, a practical skills workshop, and a clinical experiential practice site (at a periodontal clinic). The learning objectives for the module were as follows: (1) to recognize the importance of developing skills in physical assessment; (2) to demonstrate how to measure blood pressure, pulse rate, respiratory rate, and body temperature; (3) to explain and interpret findings obtained from a physical assessment of vitals; and (4) to apply physical assessment skills on selected patients for the purpose of evaluating and monitoring drug therapy response in a clinical setting. All content was developed by a registered clinical pharmacist with experience and formal training in physical assessment, with input on strategies for providing formal training and evaluation of instructors and students provided by the director of the Clinical Learning and Simulation Facility (CLSF) at the University of Manitoba. …

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