The National Health Science Assessment Explained

Health science educators across the country want the best for their students' academic future. Likewise, University instructors want students and health professional candidates to be well-prepared for their healthcare voyage.  If you are a college health science educator, you might already know about the National Health Science Assessment. The National Health Science Assessment is a validated, knowledge-based, end-of-program test designed to evaluate the extent of a candidate’s knowledge of the National Health Science Standards. This assessment for examining health science proficiency was designed by the National Consortium for Health Science Education.

If you are unfamiliar with the NHSA, this guide will help explain everything you need to know to utilize this valuable resource in your classroom.

Who is the National Consortium for Health Science Education?

The National Consortium for Health Science Education (NCHSE) is a partnership made up of individuals and organizations that have a vested interest in providing the highest quality healthcare possible. NCHSE believes that providing quality healthcare starts with educating aspiring health science professionals from the very beginning of their interest, which is often in high school.

About the National Consortium of Health Sciences Education

The consortium was created in 1991 to help shape the future of the healthcare workforce. NCHSE’s goals include:

Responding to the needs of health science education and the healthcare industry

Defining and advancing the framework of health science education

Becoming an industry leader that shapes the future healthcare workforce

Connecting with stakeholders that affect and contribute to health science education

NCHSE membership consists of key groups of healthcare-affiliated professionals, all of whom seek to better the healthcare field through education. These members include:

Industry professionals, professional organizations, and government agencies

Health science publishers and resource providers

University educators and administrators

When you become a member of NCHSE, you have access to exclusive member-only training, events, and resources. But regardless of membership, all health science educators have access to the NHSA to help their students build a future in healthcare. This begins with an industry-recognized certificate of proficiency-based on health science standards.

What is the Importance of NCHSE in the Context of the National Health Science Assessment?

In 1992, NCHSE was awarded a three-year $1.4 million grant by the US Department of Education. The grant’s purpose was to establish national standards for healthcare skills. More than 1,000 healthcare employers, college and university faculty, secondary teachers, and professional organization representatives helped identify common practices, review content for each standard, and pilot test the standards in their respective health science organizations.

The ultimate result was 11 common healthcare foundational standards and 4 career pathway standard sets – groupings of careers based on their healthcare roles or functions. Health professionals began implementing the standards in 1995. They added a fifth career pathway in 2002.

Today, the career pathways are:

  • Health Informatics
  • Support Services
  • Diagnostics
  • Therapeutics
  • Biotechnology Research and Development

What is The National Health Science Assessment?

The National Health Science Assessment (NHSA) measures a student's familiarity with health science skills and knowledge of health science concepts.

The exam was developed by NCHSE and is a validated, knowledge-based test that measures the extent of a candidate's understanding of the National Health Sciences Standards. The NHSA takes into account multiple years of health science education.

Upon passing, students earn a certificate of proficiency that shows they have the appropriate foundational skills for a career in healthcare. However it's important to note, this is not a credential or certification to begin practicing in the field. Instead, the NHSA serves as a way for students to demonstrate that they are ready to forge the path toward becoming a healthcare professional.

How can I Help my Students Prepare?

As a health science instructor, you can use the National Health Science Standards and the NHSA exam to guide your teaching. On the NCHSE website, you will find resources that will help you prepare your students for the assessment. Below is a list of some of these resources:

1. Curriculum Enhancements: Designed by fellow educators and industry professionals who understand the needs of the healthcare field, curriculum enhancements help bolster your lessons.

2. Work-Based Learning: Project-based learning resources provide valuable, one-of-a-kind experiences that mimic clinical placements. Work-based learning gives students a head-start to becoming high-quality health professionals.

3. Webinars: Using online platforms, you can connect with educators and industry professionals to discuss important healthcare-related topics directly from your classroom.

4. Practice Exams: With 32 sample questions, each practice exam will prepare your students for the NHSA. You can also use practice exams to determine what health science concepts you and your students should focus on.

You'll also have access to a career specialty chart, which helps students identify the healthcare occupations or career pathways that they are best suited for. The career specialty chart is based on NCHSE’s five career pathways.

National Health Science Assessment Explained

Remember that as a health science educator, you should not focus on test preparation. Rather, you should teach core health science concepts and use the assessment as a guide, not as definitive curriculum; performing well on the exam will come as a natural side effect of effective health science preparation.

In your course, focus on the following:

1. Teach the foundational health science skills and concepts. Your students will need this knowledge to perform well in the healthcare field. The National Health Science Standards provides an excellent framework for what specific skills and concepts you should focus on. As an instructor, you can create your own program based on the National Health Science Standards or choose a pre-built program specifically designed to help you and your students master the standards.

2. Learn about the exam to prepare yourself to help your students get ready for the assessment. Consult NCHSE's Assessment FAQ page for additional guidance.

3. Provide practice or sample exams for students. Review their results to gain a better understanding of your students’ strengths and weaknesses. Practice exams will help you adjust your course to student needs and help students realize what they need to improve on.

4. Before the test, let your students know what to expect on the day of the exam. If you’ve based your program on the National Health Science Standards, all that’s left is to remind them that they are well-prepared and ready to tackle the assessment.

What Will be on the Test?

The NHSA is administered via an online portal by Precision Exams. The exam consists of questions that come in four formats: multiple choice, labeling, matching, and sequencing and ordering. It contains 105 test items worth a total of 110 points.

Note that the NHSA is reviewed on an ongoing basis by NCHSE. This means the number of exam questions or the weight of any given question may change.

Exam questions are drawn from the National Health Science Standards. Most of the exam is based on the Academic Foundation standard. The questions are designed to take advantage of enhanced questioning strategies that require critical thinking and problem-solving. Questions on the assessment come in multiple formats; some will require simple recall, whereas others will involve synthesizing information from multiple sources, interpreting images, prioritizing alternatives, and using critical judgment to reach the right conclusion.

Sample Questions:

The NHSA provides a sample assessment that includes 32 questions. The questions on the sample assessment are similar to what your students will see on the test.

Here are a few sample questions to give you an idea of what the test will look like:

1. An autoclave kills pathogens, viruses and spores using: (circle the correct answer)

2. Label the following structures of the Respiratory System (image with labels provided, but the student must match labels to the correct anatomical area)

3. How many sutures would be needed to close a wound that is 5 inches long if the physician puts in one suture every 2 cm (1 in = 2.54 cm)?: (circle the correct answer)

4. Match the following Diseases and Disorders with their corresponding parts of the body: (anatomical chart and terms provided for matching)

5. Michael is an 18 month-old male toddler that is in the 50% percentile for length-age. Using the chart below, determine how many more centimeters Michael will need to grow to reach the 95% percentile by 24 months? (circle the correct answer)

As you can see, the questions contain a range of response types to assess a student's mastery of the National Health Science Standards. The questions cover terminology, math-based knowledge, anatomy-related topics, and more – all of which are crucial in health science work.

In the following section, we’ll help you explore the NHSA exam standards. We will also give you a better idea of the types of questions that will be on the test.

What are the National Health Science Standards?

The National Health Science Standards (NHSS) represent the skills and knowledge students entering the healthcare field are expected to have. Developed by NCHSE, these standards are meant to guide health science instructors as they develop their programs.

The National Health Science Standards help ensure that students are exposed to a quality health science curriculum. The standards are reviewed and updated regularly to account for technological, scientific, and professional advances. The latest review saw some significant changes being made in mid-2019.

Why the Standards Exist

The standards are user-friendly, measurable accountability for both health science educators and students. They are reviewed and validated by stakeholders, including businesses and individuals within educational and healthcare industries, professional organizations, and state agencies.

Overall, the standards provide a comprehensive framework for creating and assessing a health science education curriculum. Educators are meant to use them to design a quality curriculum for their students that is consistent with industry and professional standards.

A health science curriculum based on the NHSS is meant to include not only the NHSA, but also crucial concepts needed to work in the healthcare field. The standards provide instructors and students with a clear path to follow when setting goals for education and future employment. They also give consumers and employers the ability to benefit from well-trained healthcare professionals down the line.

The Foundational Standards

There are 11 foundational standards – each of which has detailed sub-standards. These standards delineate the skills and knowledge all healthcare workers should possess before entering the workplace. The foundational standards are:

  • Academic Foundation
  • Communications
  • Employability Skills
  • Ethics
  • Health Maintenance Practices
  • Information Technology in Healthcare
  • Legal Responsibilities
  • Safety Practices
  • Systems
  • Teamwork
  • Technical Skills

The Importance of Preparation

Both the NHSA and the NHSS are endorsed by the Health Professions Network and supported by the Tri-Council of Nursing. They credibly prepare aspiring health science students for a successful transition into post-secondary health science programs. In preparing for and mastering the NHSA, future healthcare workers gain valuable skills and knowledge that are necessary for upholding high-quality healthcare standards in the classroom and the workplace.

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