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Physical Examination

Discover the crucial role of physical examinations in healthcare, from uncovering hidden symptoms to ensuring proactive prevention, and unlock the secrets your body holds.

USMLE Guide: Physical Examination


The physical examination is a crucial aspect of patient assessment in medical practice. It involves systematically evaluating the patient's physical appearance, vital signs, and organ systems to gather important information about their health. This guide aims to provide an overview of the key components, techniques, and considerations associated with the Physical Examination, focusing on its relevance to the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

Key Components of the Physical Examination

  1. General Survey: Start by observing the patient's general appearance, demeanor, and level of distress. Assess for signs of distress, vital signs, body habitus, and overall hygiene.
  2. Vital Signs: Measure the patient's vital signs, including blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and oxygen saturation.
  3. Head and Neck Examination: Evaluate the patient's head and neck, including the skull, face, eyes, ears, nose, throat, and lymph nodes.
  4. Cardiovascular Examination: Assess the patient's cardiovascular system by examining the heart, blood vessels, and peripheral pulses. Focus on listening to heart sounds, assessing jugular venous pressure, and palpating peripheral pulses.
  5. Respiratory Examination: Evaluate the patient's respiratory system by assessing the lungs, chest wall, and breathing patterns. Auscultate lung fields, percuss the chest, and observe for signs of respiratory distress.
  6. Abdominal Examination: Examine the patient's abdomen to assess the liver, spleen, kidneys, gastrointestinal system, and abdominal vasculature. Palpate for organ enlargement, perform percussion, and listen for bowel sounds.
  7. Neurological Examination: Evaluate the patient's central and peripheral nervous systems. Assess mental status, cranial nerves, motor and sensory function, coordination, and reflexes.
  8. Musculoskeletal Examination: Examine the patient's musculoskeletal system, including joints, muscles, and bones. Assess for joint mobility, muscle strength, and any signs of deformity or swelling.
  9. Skin Examination: Observe the patient's skin for any abnormalities, such as rashes, lesions, or discoloration. Pay attention to texture, moisture, temperature, and note any signs of infection or inflammation.
  10. Genitourinary Examination: Perform a genitourinary examination in specific cases, such as assessing the male and female genitalia or evaluating for kidney tenderness.

Techniques and Considerations

  • Inspection: Observe and visually examine various body parts, noting any abnormalities, asymmetry, or visible signs of disease.
  • Palpation: Use hands to feel and assess different body structures, including organs, lymph nodes, and pulses. Palpation helps in identifying tenderness, masses, or abnormal textures.
  • Percussion: Tap various body areas to produce sound waves and evaluate underlying structures. This technique aids in assessing the density, size, and borders of organs.
  • Auscultation: Listen with a stethoscope to detect sounds produced by organs, such as heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Familiarize yourself with normal and abnormal sounds.
  • Patient Positioning: Ensure appropriate patient positioning to facilitate examination of specific body regions and optimize access for different techniques.
  • Communication and Consent: Obtain informed consent from the patient, explaining the examination process, ensuring privacy, and addressing any concerns or questions.
  • Professionalism and Patient Comfort: Maintain professionalism, respect patient privacy, and ensure patient comfort throughout the examination.

USMLE Relevance

The Physical Examination is an integral part of the USMLE, as it assesses the candidate's ability to perform a systematic evaluation of the patient's physical health. Mastery of this skill is crucial for clinical decision-making, diagnosis, and patient management. The usmle step 2 Clinical Skills (CS) examination specifically evaluates the candidate's ability to conduct a focused physical examination, communicate findings, and document appropriately.


The Physical Examination is a fundamental skill for healthcare professionals, and a thorough understanding of its components, techniques, and considerations is essential for success in the USMLE. By following this guide, medical students and physicians-in-training can enhance their knowledge and proficiency in performing a comprehensive Physical Examination, ultimately improving patient care and outcomes.

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