The one thing that is MOST dreaded in nursing school is the skills checkoff. Sure, the exams can be downright terrifying, but skills checkoffs are where you go one-on-one with your professor as they scrutinize your every move. Make too many mistakes (or even just one “fatal” mistake) and you fail…but the good news is, you get to re-take it! The bad news is, if you fail the checkoff a second time, you very well could  be out of the program. Here’s an email from a reader about this very topic:

Hi. Wanted to reach out and let you know that your website is awesome. I’m currently winding down my first semester of nursing school. I’m nervous because one of the passing components for my fundamentals and assessment class is to do a full assessment on our lab partner as two of our clinical professionals evaluate us. We each have a full 30 mins to perform a head to toe. Would you have a guide to the best way to approach this? I don’t want to leave anything out and want to do the best I can for a first year student. We will be evaluated the week of 12/7. Any tips or thoughts are welcomed. Thank you again for all the care and hard work you offer nursing student.

First things first, skills checkoffs are no joke. This is not something you can just sail through. If you are thinking you’ll “wing it” then you are in for a pretty unwelcome surprise. In other words, skills checkoffs require preparation, just as you would prepare for an exam. Let’s break down the best way to do that, shall we?

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Checkoff tip 1: Make valuable use of your skills lab time

Because skills lab is more of a loosey-goosey kind of arrangement, the temptation to relax, check out mentally or even skip out altogether can be great. The skills lab is provided for a reason…to give you time to do hands-on practice with the equipment and the mannequins. If you’re a “sit back and let everyone else do it” kind of person, your days as a wallflower are over! Get in there and get your hands on the equipment. If you’re practicing on each other…get in there and actually DO it while you have the resources of your professors to guide you. If your school offers open lab times, get in there and PRACTICE with your buddies. Again…hands-on practice with the actual equipment you will be using is invaluable.

Checkoff tip 2: Utilize multiple resources for learning

Your fundamentals and assessment books will have detailed step-by-step instructions on how to go about a particular skill. READ THEM! As you read, picture yourself doing the steps, saying the words, seeing the response of the patient. Then, go online and look for VIDEOS that show the skill in action…when I was studying how to place Foley catheters, I watched videos so I would be sure to remember all the different steps. Trust me, there’s a video for just about everything!

Also, use these resources to make sure you KNOW the material…if you’re doing a Med Pass checkoff, make sure you know the 5 rights (or 6 rights or 10 rights or whatever it is now). If you’re doing injections, know the needle gauges and lengths for different types of injections…KNOW your stuff and know the rationales behind it.

Checkoff tip 3: Practice practice practice

In addition to participating fully in skills lab,  you’re going to practice on your own. If you’ve got a head-to-toe assessment checkoff coming up, grab your best friend, your mom, your neighbor…anyone who is willing to let you prod at them. Listen to lungs through a variety of body types/sizes, palpate pulses on a 20-year old male AND a 85-year old female with low blood pressure, listen to bowel sounds on round abdomens AND flat bellies. Get used to a variety of different body types as you go through the steps again and again and again. If possible, have an observer present, who can alert you if you’ve missed something as you go along….as in, “Wait up…don’t forget to LOOK AND LISTEN to the abdomen BEFORE you palpate!”

Checkoff tip 4: And if you’re really nervous….write out a script

When I first started doing skills checkoffs, I was SO NERVOUS I would forget something. So, I actually wrote out a script as though I were performing in a play (which you kind of are…a play starring YOU!). I included everything from the greeting to the actions I would perform with each line…that way I knew not to forget to do hand hygiene (an automatic fail if I had forgotten!) and worked my way through the entire assessment. Overkill? Maybe…but the idea of “performing” was so unnerving, that actually writing out a script and practicing it made the actual assessment seem like no big deal. If I hadn’t done all that prep, I would have felt SUPREMELY awkward doing my checkoff and likely gotten distracted. I mean really…you’re talking to a mannequin half the time and to say it feels strange is a huge understatement. By practicing my script, I stayed on point and passed with no problems at all.

I hope that helps you feel like you can approach your skills checkoffs with confidence! What was your scariest skills checkoff and how did you prepare? Let us know in the comments below!

Get this on audio in podcast episode 86.


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Must-have tips for rocking your skills checkoffs!