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Arkansas State University

Why Is Sound Clinical Judgment Vital to Primary Care?

In healthcare, the development of sound clinical judgment takes time. Yet, it’s an essential component of the medical profession. Clinical judgment is crucial for both primary care practitioners and their patients in order to inform other clinicians, scientists and healthcare managers of important information.

An advanced Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree prepares healthcare professionals with clinical judgment skills to be successful in patient care.

Care on Paper vs. Care in Practice

Evidence-based medicine guides practitioners to use relevant scientific evidence, patient values and clinical judgment when treating patients. Some view this practice as a formulaic approach to medicine. But, the appropriate amount of emphasis on a specific study, report, practice alert or clinical practice guideline is not always clear to practitioners.

Because individual patient values vary, clinical judgment requires more significant development through education and experience. Newer practitioners may focus more on the most obvious diagnosis based on limited or structured information.

Helping healthcare professionals understand the nuances of care is why continuing education is so important. Advanced healthcare education fosters more comprehensive assessments and helps practitioners trust their “gut feeling.” This skill is vital for nurse practitioners, as their agility in treatment situations relies heavily on their clinical judgment skills.

What Is “Good” Clinical Judgment?

Nursing educator Dr. Pam Embler credits clinical decision-making skills for one’s ability to adapt to changes in patient presentations. The goal is to improve patient outcomes through creative problem-solving. By evaluating what they know and being open to learning something new, professionals may discover a treatment tactic not previously considered.

Clinical judgment goes beyond passing the NCLEX. Real-world application in bedside situations with actual patients is critical. KeithRN notes that critical thinking plus clinical reasoning equals clinical judgment. Developing these skills in an educational environment helps set nurses up for success in critical situations.

Impact of Poor Clinical Judgment

Nurses are at the front of patient care. They often have first and most frequent contact with patients. They discover patient concerns, complaints and values that are important to determine the course of treatment. They communicate their observations and assessments from direct experience with patients to other care team members, which influences diagnosis and treatment decisions.

Clinical decision-making missteps and diagnostic errors can be detrimental to patient outcomes. Biases, lack of education and experience contribute to poor clinical judgment. Poor diagnostic decisions can harm patient safety and heighten malpractice risk. Additionally, they can cause reputational harm to individual nurses, facilities and the profession as a whole.

Developing Sound Clinical Judgment Through Education

While there is no substitute for years of experience in the field, education provides a strong foundation for developing sound clinical judgment. Pursuing an advanced degree opens up more opportunities to hone clinical judgment skills in a safe environment. Case studies, simulations and labs help nurses gain confidence in examining and presenting cases. The classroom is the right place to make mistakes and learn from them, as curricula prepare students for real-world scenarios.

Working nurses can further develop their clinical judgment through the Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) program at Arkansas State University (A-State). Through this online program, nurses learn theories and concepts to help guide their clinical judgment.

Coursework covers patient care with respect to diverse populations, so nurse practitioners can present cases that respect the values and concerns of different ethnicities and cultures. Nurses also develop skills like radiological interpretation, telehealth and dental health practices — adding more tools to their patient care toolbox. They gain clinical decision-making and diagnostic evaluation skills before the clinical portion of the degree program.

With a strong educational foundation, real-world experience working with patients and an understanding of individual patient needs, nurse practitioners are ready for a career in a wide variety of settings.

Learn more about A-State’s Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) online program.

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