You are assigned to five patients and you have to figure out which patients to prioritize to see first. Nursing school and NCLEX love to make sure that you understand patient safety by seeing how you prioritize your patients.

Questions you are likely to see in priority questions:

  • Who should the nurse see first?
  • Which nursing action is the most important?
  • Who should the nurse discharge first?
  • Which phone call should the nurse return first?


  • Airway
  • Breathing
  • Circulation

Patients with airway complications are top priority. Nursing school has taught you that airway management is considered to be TOP priority or it could lead to client deterioration. Be careful because respiratory problems such as a patient with pneumonia would be considered chronic and stable. You would look for an answer for a patient who is unstable and has an acute condition.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

  • Physiological
  • Safety
  • Love/Belonging
  • Esteem
  • Self-actualization

Physiological needs come first before psychological needs. If the patient is having difficulty breathing, then it would be redundant to care about the patient’s depression needs first. If you pick depression interventions first, it would probably be too late to act on the physiological needs.

Nursing Process

  • Assessment
  • Nursing Diagnosis
  • Planning
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation

Assessment should always be done before planning. How can you create an intervention without not even assessing what is wrong with the patient? Think carefully before you act though because if the question already has subjective data and objective data, then you may not need to assess further and need to go to the next step of the nursing process.

Patient First Before Equipment

If a patient is attached to an equipment, then it is important to make sure you prioritize the patient before the equipment. If the equipment gets dislodged from the patient, assessment and intervention must occur as soon as possible to make sure that you put the patient’s safety first. If you provide care to the equipment first, it may be too late by the time you get to the patient.


In triage situations, if the patient can not be saved (patient with 90% body surface area burn), then the patient should not be treated first.

You would want to pick an answer based on what you see in clinical or your job. You will think to yourself, well the LPNs are allowed to do this and that at my job. Remember that the NCLEX is given to EVERYONE in the entire country. You cannot think about New York nurses doing things differently from California nurses. If one state does not allow it, then the answer is most likely incorrectly.