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Nursing Prioritization: How Do I Know What to Do First?

A huge part of caring for patients in nursing is knowing what to do first. So, it makes sense that nursing prioritization is something you will need to know for the NCLEX-RN. Nursing prioritization isn’t something you will see as an isolated topic as part of the test plan, but rather as something that must be applied to care decisions in multiple settings.  But, how do you know what to do first?

Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for Nursing Prioritization

Lucky for us, a man named Abraham Maslow theorized about how people prioritize their needs and how people are motivated.  He even put it all into a handy pyramid to show us what he meant! Awesome, right?

nursing prioritization


Now, if you have already been in nursing school a while, most of this will be review, but considering its importance, a little review won’t hurt.  Maslow’s pyramid is designed to show that things at the base of the pyramid are higher priority than those at the top.  Here is a quick rundown of the categories starting at the bottom:

  • Physiological needs refer to things we need to live.  Examples are air, water, and food.
  • Safety needs refer to things like being free from danger and having adequate shelter.
  • Love and belonging include the need for affection and belonging to a group (like family).
  • Esteem includes self-esteem and approval from others.
  • Self-actualization means meeting an individual’s full potential.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs provides a framework for nursing prioritization. Often times, there will be many potential nursing actions needed, but the nurse must be able to distinguish the first among them and then to rank them accordingly by priority. Nurses can use Maslow’s pyramid to remind themselves which nursing actions are priority, starting from the bottom.

Nursing Prioritization and the NCLEX-RN

What’s all this got to do with the NCLEX-RN? NCLEX contains many patient care questions related to the prioritization of nursing care.  From managing time with multiple patients to handling complicated patient care situations, test takers can expect to see questions related to what the nurse in the question should do first.  The nurse should plan care to meet physiological needs first, followed by safety needs, love and belonging needs, and so on. As a test-taker, you can use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to help you decide which to choose.

Nursing prioritization is a vital part of the job and questions on the NCLEX-RN are going to assure that test candidates can appropriately distinguish priority nursing actions. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can provide a framework for recognizing what order care must be given in or what steps must come first. There is still much work to be done when you consider the content of the NCLEX-RN, but at least having a framework for prioritization can help you in choosing the right answers for the test and help you in making the best decisions for your patients.  Happy Studying!

About Stephanie

Stephanie is a contributor to the NCLEX-RN Blog at Magoosh. She has been a registered nurse for 13 years. She earned her AAS in Nursing from community college before enrolling as an online student at Grand Canyon University, where she completed both her BSN and MSN with an emphasis in Nursing Education. Student success is her top priority and she is committed to working with her students to see them thrive. When she isn’t teaching the nurses of tomorrow, Stephanie enjoys traveling with her family to warm, sunny places.

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