Respiratory assessment: undertaking a physical examination of the chest in adults

respiratory assessment

Nurses frequently encounter patients in respiratory distress or with respiratory complications, whether from acute disease or a long-term condition. A physical examination of the chest should be conducted as part of a comprehensive respiratory assessment of the patient, and should follow a systematic approach that includes inspection, palpation, percussion and auscultation. Nurses undertaking these hands-on components of respiratory assessments need to have adequate knowledge of the procedures involved, as well as practical skills that need to be practised under supervision. This article outlines how to undertake a physical examination of the chest in adults.


Available to RCNi Plus subscribers

Why you should read this article

  • to enhance your knowledge of the hands-on components of a respiratory assessment
  • to support you in identifying the various ‘red flags’ associated with respiratory disease
  • to count towards revalidation as part of your 35 hours of CPD, or you may wish to write a reflective account (UK readers)
  • to contribute towards your professional development and local registration renewal requirements (non-UK readers)

Resource last reviewed

No date available


Sara Morgan (Senior lecturer advanced practice - Faculty of Life Sciences and Education, University of South Wales, Pontypridd, Wales)