Understanding Normal Laboratory Values for the NCLEX

Lab values normally do not have a “normal”. Instead, they have a normal range that is acceptable for good health or unacceptable and causing specific health concerns. While there is no one specific standard to follow, the values that fall within the “normal” range can be used to make a more accurate diagnosis. When it comes to the NCLEX exam, the values that are provided are not accurate. They will either be very high or very low and you will be required to calculate what they should be and then recommend ways to bring them back to within the normal ranges.

Understanding what normal values are and how they are achieved and maintained, will help you determine the best way to assist your patient when the values are either too low or too high. During your education, you were taught many of the basic lab values and what would cause them to fluctuate. During the NCLEX exam, you are required to draw on that knowledge and make the appropriate calculations to determine what your next step should be in caring for your patient.

Why Are Lab Values Needed?

Reading lab values is a basic part of working as a registered nurse. First and foremost, they are excellent indicators as to what may be wrong with your patient. They provide accurate information into the physiological workings of the patient’s body and can indicate a variety of possible causes for what may be wrong. Lab values that are too low or too high can be used to identify a specific problem or can result in a more accurate diagnosis. When lab work is performed, the doctors need to know exactly what is going on within the body. Lab values offer that information in a concise format for those who understand how to translate the numbers and calculate for adjustments as they are necessary.

Lab values can also be used to show how a person is responding to treatment. Lab values are an essential tool, just like the patient’s blood counts, blood pressure, or body temperature. The lab values, when interpreted correctly, can also help you adjust medications so that the patient is receiving only what they need to maintain balance within the body.

Is there an Easy Way to Remember Lab Values?

Everyone has their own way of remembering lab values. For some, it will be constant use and memorization. Over time, they may be the easiest way to remember them. Continual use is the best way to reinforce your memory when it comes to something that you will be using on a daily basis. Instructors often provide students with little tips and tricks on how to remember multiple ranges at one time. Some tried-and-true methods include:

  • Flash Cards
  • Recording and playing back (on your iPhone, for example)
  • Notes around house
  • Mnemonics

Mnemonics are a nursing student’s best friend. For example, what makes up the white blood count? Never Let Monkeys Eat Bananas:

  • Neutrophils: 60%
  • Lymphocytes 30%
  • Monocytes 6%
  • Eosinophils 3%
  • Basophils 1%

What it comes down to, is the person must find a way that will make the numbers stick in their minds. Some lab reports may include the normal range for a specific component, but if it doesn’t, it is essential that the nurse knows what the normal ranges are so they can get to the bottom of what is wrong with their patient.

One of the best ways to do this is continually reviewing your coursework until you have a good working knowledge of all the lab values you need. Learn as much as you can about each lab value and what each component does within the body. Once you begin to understand those things, it will be easier to identify symptoms and associate them with certain components and identify when their lab values have dropped or are elevated higher than they should be.

Why Are Lab Value Calculations Included in the NCLEX Exam?

Questions concerning lab values are included in the NCLEX exam because they are vital to taking proper care of your patients. If you did not have the lab values to use, it would be much more difficult to identify potential problems when it comes to medication administration, dosages, and reactions to specific treatment protocols.

The NCLEX exam includes lab values and how to calculate them to ensure that you understand those concepts and how they are used within a healthcare setting to maintain patient health and welfare. Knowing how to appropriately read lab results is the only way to identify specific problems. The creators of the NCLEX exam understand the importance of having this skill and make it a point to ensure that those who pass the exam have that knowledge and understand how to use it appropriately.

Related:

Understanding Ethical Practice
Understanding Therapeutic Communication
Understanding Techniques of Physical Assessment
Understanding Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalances
Understanding Medication Administration