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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Nursing

What Is It, Significance, Examples, and More

Author:Maria Emfietzoglou, MD

Editors:Alyssa Haag,Emily Miao, PharmD,Kelsey LaFayette, DNP, RN

Illustrator:Jessica Reynolds, MS

Copyeditor:David G. Walker


What is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a five-tier list of human needs developed by Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, often presented as a pyramid with the fundamental needs at the bottom and the higher-level needs at the top. 

Pyramid outlining Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs with rainbow colors.

What is the significance of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in nursing care?

The significance of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in nursing care is to remind nurses that an individual’s fundamental needs need to be met before they should try to achieve any higher-level needs. Additionally, people involved in patient care should be aware that every individual has needs that must be fulfilled in order to survive and preserve their physical and mental health. As such, an illness, an accident, or advanced age may prevent an individual from fulfilling their needs, and thus, the individual may require assistance from a health care professional. 

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What are examples of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

Examples of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are the physiological needs, such as oxygen, water, food, shelter, and rest, which are found at the bottom of the list and need to be fulfilled for a person to live. Above the physiological needs is the need to feel safe. In a healthcare environment, it is common for individuals to feel uncomfortable or unsafe; to prevent these feelings, all procedures should be explained thoroughly to the patient and any concerns need to be fully addressed. Next in the pyramid is the need for a sense of love and belonging, which is usually fulfilled by family, friends, as well as the team of healthcare providers. Patients should be encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings, and health care providers should listen to them carefully. In addition, a nurse could consider holding the person’s arm when interacting with them to show affection and empathy. 

Moving higher in the pyramid is self-esteem, which is the sense of self-worth or self-respect. When a person loses the ability to take care of themselves, for example due to a neurological disorder such as Parkinson disease, they might lose their self-esteem. In this case, individuals should be encouraged to participate in their daily activities and personal care as much as tolerated as this can boost their self-esteem. Finally, the highest-level need is self-actualization, which is realizing one’s capabilities and achieving their full potential. In case of a disease or an accident, an individual might lose their previous fine motor skills and may feel discouraged when participating in daily and social activities. Health care providers can encourage them daily and help in maintaining a positive attitude as well as in accepting a new identity.

What are the most important facts to know about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs lists an individual’s needs in order of priority, and it is typically presented in the shape of a pyramid with fundamental needs at the lower level and higher level needs at the top. Lower-level needs have the highest priority and must be fulfilled before trying to achieve higher-level needs. Moving from bottom to top of the pyramid, examples of needs include physiological needs, safety, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization. 

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Resources for research and reference

Carter, P. J. (2012). Lippincott’s textbook for nursing assistants: A humanistic approach to caregiving (3rd ed.). Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Perry, A. G., Potter, P. A., & Ostendorf, W. (2013). Clinical nursing skills and techniques (8th ed.). Mosby.

Sorrentino, S. A., & Remmert, L. N. (2017). Mosby’s textbook for nursing assistants (9th ed.). Elsevier.