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Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for NCLEX-RN

In order to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to assist you in correctly answering questions on your NCLEX-RN exam, you must first have a good understanding of each level.

maslow's hierarchy of needs nclex

Physiological Needs

In order to survive an individual’s physiological needs must be met, therefore making these the highest priority. Examples of physiological needs are water, food, sleep, shelter, sex and breathing. Thinking as nurse, one might say oxygen, fluid, nutrition, temperature, elimination, shelter, rest, and sex.

Safety Needs

Safety encompasses the security of resources, employment, family, and health. Looking at this from a nursing perspective, there are both physical and psychological needs to consider.

Physical safety requires one to decrease what is threatening the client’s wellbeing. The actual threat may be an illness, accident, or environmental issue. Nurses spend a great deal of time teaching clients how to decrease these threats. For example, instructing a client on a healthy lifestyle will decrease his risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Teaching a new mother to always secure her child in the child seat or to have the child wear a helmet when biking can significantly decrease the potential harm to the child should he be in an unexpected accident. If you have a patient with multiple sclerosis who frequently falls and has more difficulty functioning in the heat, teaching the client to avoid heat exposure and use cooling devices when necessary will help the client deal with an environmental issue which could have a significant negative impact on her life. Education is imperative to ensure the maintenance of a safe environment.

Psychological safety is achievable only when the client has the knowledge and understanding about what to expect from others in his environment. If a patient is undergoing a major surgery that will alter her appearance, the client needs to be able to discuss her concerns about how she will look and be perceived and accepted by others. Not addressing concerns will lead to stress, fear, and potentially depression.

Love and Belonging

The client needs to feel loved by family and accepted by others. If a client is struggling with accepting who they are and pushing others away in the process, they will not be successful. Listening is often the key to aiding our patients in understanding their feelings.

Self Esteem

When an individual feels self-confident and useful, he or she will develop a positive self-esteem. He or she will see themselves as an integral member of their family, work place, and/or community.


The highest level of self-actualization can not be achieved if all of the other levels have not successfully been attained and maintained. The client must experience fulfillment and be able to recognize his or her potential. The reality is that many will not achieve this level, but as nurses, we should be assisting each patient to reach his or her highest potential.

Answering Priority Based NCLEX-RN Questions

Now that you have an understanding of Maslow’s Hierarchy, it is time to consider how to use it when answering NCLEX-RN priority questions.

  1. Review the answers and determine if they are both physiological and psychosocial.
  2. Eliminate psychosocial answers, as physiological issues must be addressed first.
  3. Review the remaining answers and decide if they make sense in regards to the question asked.
  4. Apply ABCs (Airway, Breathing, Circulation)
  5. Always ask yourself, “what is the highest priority for this patient?”

This will help you narrow down potential answers, thereby increasing your chances of answering each question correctly. Take your time and consider each option. Keep practicing and studying so that you will feel more prepared to successfully pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Good Luck!

About Michelle

Michelle Besmer is dedicated to preparing the next generation of nurses for successful careers. She completed her Bachelors of Nursing and her Masters as a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Rutgers University. She has practiced and trained nurses in pediatrics for over 15 years. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, baking and playing trumpet.

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