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A Nurse’s Guide for Specimen Collection, Preparation & Handling

Specimen collection, preparation and handling are important tasks performed by nurses. By identifying pathogens and analyzing urine, feces, sputum and blood, one can assess the health status of a patient. One of the core responsibilities of nurses is to collect, then label specimens for analysis. Immediately after this, the specimens should be delivered to the lab.

Nurses need to be aware of how to properly gather specimens, both for self-protection, and to prevent the spread of diseases. Let’s have a closer look at the concept of specimen collection.

The Basic Guidelines:

  • Specimens need to be collected at the best time possible, such as early morning sputum for AFB culture.
  • Use appropriate collection devices like sterile, leak-proof specimen containers for collecting samples.
  • Expiration dates need to be checked before inoculating collection device.
  • Fill out the test request form fully and label the specimen properly.
  • Maintain an appropriate time between collection of the specimen and delivery to the lab.

The Role of Nurses in Specimen Collection:

  • Ensuring appropriate collection of samples
  • Precise sample identification
  • Making sure all selected supplies are suitable for collection
  • Timely transfer of specimen to the lab
  • Patient interaction

Common Specimen Collections:

1. Throat swab culture

To check the presence of a bacterial or fungal infection in the throat, a diagnostic test called a throat swab culture is conducted. In this test, a sample of mucus is collected on a cotton-tipped applicator and is placed on a special cup that allows infections to dwell. Common infections include pneumonia, whooping cough, and tonsillitis.

2. Sputum specimen and culture

In this laboratory analysis, a sample of material is expelled from the respiratory passages to determine pathogen presence. It generally takes a good 2-3 days to collect the specimen, as it is very difficult for a patient to cough up enough sputum at one time.

3. Stool specimen and culture

Stool cultures include the process of growing organisms existing in the feces to identify any disease-causing bacteria. The most common is the parasites and ova test to detect the presence of parasites such as amoebas or worms.

4. Urine specimen and culture

Physical, chemical and microscopic examination of urine is referred to as urinalysis. It generally involves a number of tests to analyze various compounds thoroughly that pass through the urine. The color, density, and odor of the urine are all considered to reveal the individual’s health status.


In a hospital setting, nurses play an important role in collecting, labeling, and also ensuring the proper delivery of specimens to the laboratory. Nurses need to possess not only the knowledge but also the skill and understanding to successfully perform these procedures. To learn more about other nursing specializations, keep reading our blog. At INSCOL, we help nurses shape their career by pursuing specialty nursing programs abroad.

Author - Rohini Theodore


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