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The aims of the study were to describe which of the core techniques of the physical assessment are regularly performed by a sample of Italian nurses, and to investigate the potential predictors of a more complete examination.Physical examination is among the essential tasks of nursing professionals, who are requested to perform a correct and complete physical assessment.Cross-sectional survey.The study was performed between August 2013 and January 2014 in 17 Italian regions. A total of 1182 questionnaires were collected.Most participants were females (age range 41–50 years), and worked in Internal Medicine, Intensive Care and Surgical hospital units. Of the 30 core techniques that are currently taught and performed according to the Italian Baccalaureate degree requirements, 20 were routinely performed, 6 were seldom used and 4 were learnt but almost never performed (auscultation of lung, heart and bowel sounds and spine inspection). Graduate and postgraduate nurses, working in Intensive Care Units and Nursing Homes, were more prone than the others to carry out a more complete physical assessment.The skills to perform a physical assessment are suboptimal among this sample of Italian nurses. Health and educational providers should pose more attention and efforts to provide nurses with an acceptable training in physical examination practice.This study describes the specific physical techniques performed by nurses in real practice and provides information on which skills require more attention in nursing educational programmes.