Subjective vs Objective Nursing Data: What’s the Difference?

3 Min Read Published January 4, 2024
Subjective vs Objective Nursing Data

Nursing requires the ability to recognize signs and symptoms of illness and disease and interpret laboratory data. Nurses can provide quality care to patients and their families through subjective and objective nursing data.

This article digs into subjective vs objective nursing data, explaining their differences and providing examples of both. We also discuss why knowing the differences between these types of data is vital to providing excellent nursing care. Read on to learn how to interpret and utilize subjective and objective data in your daily nursing practice.

Subjective vs Objective Nursing Data: What’s the Difference?

Subjective data in nursing is the information that patients, families, and caregivers relay. This nonnumerical, qualitative data helps tell nurses "how" a patient is feeling.

Objective data in nursing is information collected or observed by the nurse through physical assessment, observation, or diagnostic tests. It can help guide healthcare professionals to care for a patient. Unlike subjective data, objective data can be numerical.

Sometimes, nursing professionals refer to subjective data as "symptoms" and objective data as "signs."

Subjective vs Objective Data Examples

Getting subjective and objective data confused is surprisingly easy. You may conflate the two terms since patient-reported symptoms often align with your observations. However, understanding how subjective vs objective nursing data differs is essential.

Examples of Subjective Data in Nursing

A subjective assessment in nursing includes observations you cannot quantify. Instead, you’ll collect qualitative data, which includes:

  • Pain level
  • Description of symptoms such as cough, itching, rash, or runny nose
  • Exhaustion and fatigue 
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Level of consciousness
  • Vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea 

Examples of Objective Data in Nursing

An objective assessment in nursing is quantitative, and the data can be numerical. You can collect and observe this data through tests and physical examinations. Some examples of objective nursing data include:

  • Vital signs (e.g. temperature or blood pressure)
  • Blood levels such as CBC, BMP, PTT, etc.
  • Height and weight
  • Respiratory rate
  • Heart rate
  • Overall physical appearance 
  • Wound appearance
  • X-ray, MRI, CT results

Importance of Subjective vs Objective Data in Nursing

Understanding the difference between subjective and objective data is vital to your success as a nurse. It is even more essential if you plan on advancing your career and becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

It Affects Patient Care

A good nurse listens to patients, families, and caregivers to provide the best care possible. For example, since pain is mostly subjective, you'll have to rely on your patient to determine their pain levels. This subjective data may dictate the type of pain medicine you administer or whether you need to contact a healthcare provider.

Nurses must also be keen and skilled observers, collecting quantitative data to provide top-notch patient care. The following examples demonstrate how understanding subjective and objective data and how to use them impacts your nursing decisions.

Example 1: Asthmatic Patient

If an asthmatic patient tells you they are having trouble breathing and chest tightness, you'll probably call a respiratory therapist to administer PRN albuterol. Likewise, the patient needs albuterol if you auscultate breath sounds and hear wheezing. This is an example of using subjective and objective data to treat the patient successfully.

The healthcare team may put in PRN medication or lab orders based on your findings or results. Therefore, misunderstanding the subjective and objective data in this situation may hinder patient care.

Example 2: Diabetic Patient

Another example would be the diabetic patient with a blood sugar finding of 385. Your knowledge of objective data, like doctor's orders, will change how you respond to this finding. The orders may tell you to draw glucose to send to the lab, directly administer insulin, or contact the healthcare provider. Knowing this data and the numerical findings will allow you to care for your patient properly and prevent complications.

Final Thoughts

In summary, subjective and objective nursing data are essential to patient care, outcomes, and well-being. Subjective data is the information given by patients, families, and their caregivers. It refers to how they feel and what they experience.

On the other hand, objective data is quantitative. You obtain it via vital signs, physical assessments, and laboratory results.

Though different, both data types are vital in delivering quality nursing care. Understanding the differences and how to utilize them will improve your ability to treat your patients.


  • Are vital signs subjective or objective?

    • Vital signs are an example of objective data. 
  • Is blood pressure subjective or objective?

    • Blood pressure is an example of objective data.
  • Is tenderness subjective or objective?

    • Tenderness is an example of subjective data. 
  • Is fatigue subjective or objective?

    • Fatigue is an example of subjective data. 
  • Is lethargy subjective or objective?

    • Lethargy is an example of subjective data. 


Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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