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Measure and Record Respirations


 Why can’t you tell the patient you are counting their respirations?

When you tell someone that you are counting their respirations, they will become aware of their breathing. This will usually cause them to alter their breathing patterns (either slow down or speed up), and your count won’t be accurate. If you tell the patient that you are taking their vital signs, they will relax and you will get an accurate reading!

How long do you have to count respirations?

Our care plan for this patient tells us to count for one full minute. You would follow the directions on the care plan for every patient. For the exam, the care plan will specify one full minute.

Why does it look like you are counting the pulse?

Standing over someone, silently staring at their chest, without touching them is creepy. The patient will feel uneasy and that can affect their breathing patterns. Holding their hand at the wrist will make the patient feel like we are counting the pulse, which is something that the patient is familiar and comfortable with.

What if I forget to document?

Documentation is a critical step for this skill. If you are assigned to measure something in healthcare, that means that someone ELSE (like the nurse) needs that information to make a decision or plan care. If you don’t write it down, they won’t have this information that they need. Having that number in YOUR head does no one any good. For this reason, writing it down counts big for the test!

How accurate do you have to be for the test?

For the exam, you can be off by 2 breaths in either direction and still be considered accurate. The evaluators will count the respirations at the same time that you are counting and write down their readings to compare with yours. As long as you are within 2 breaths of their reading, you are considered accurate!


Patricia Laramee, RN

Patricia Laramee is an RN and educator. She has authored the CNA Skills Made Easy program which includes books and videos, which are used by CNA programs throughout the country, and is currently working on several new textbooks and other projects. She has dedicated her career to providing high-quality educational resources that center on testing standards and best nursing practices. She lives in Florida with her husband and four-legged furry assistant.

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