Nursing ABC’s: Tips for Prioritizing Patient Care

How to Prioritize Patient Care Using ABC’s

Yes, it is normal for nursing students to get their exam questions wrong if they haven’t prioritized the patient care or health concern that is being addressed in the respective question.

Today we will be discussing prioritizing patient care. It can be difficult for a nurse to choose what aspect of patient care to focus on because there are so many different aspects!

In order to make sure that you have an understanding of nursing priority questions, an ABC nursing assessment strategy comes in handy.

ABC’s (Airway, Breathing, Circulation)

How to Prioritize Patient Care Using ABC's
Nursing ABC’s Assessment

First, look at the patient’s ABC and get a thorough understanding of their health concerns.

(A) = Airway: Are there any breathing problems? Does the patient have trouble breathing? Have they had any incidents with airway obstruction or trauma to the face in which may affect respiration? For example, are they having respiratory distress or difficulty even breathing? We would want to focus on airway related health concerns first!

(B) = Breathing: Are they currently breathing adequately? Is their normal respiration rate too fast, too slow, or irregular? Are you able to detect the respiratory effort of the patient’s breathing sounds when listening closely to their lungs?

The information you get from the above questions will let you know if there are any breathing problems that need to be addressed and moved up on your nursing priority list.

(C) = Circulation: Are their vital signs within a normal range? Does their heart rate seem too fast or slow, with an irregular rhythm of the heartbeat? Check blood pressure, listen to a patient’s heartbeat and rate, feel for a pulse on different extremities of the body. We would want to focus on circulation related health concerns next!

If you were to ask an experienced nurse what specific steps they would take if rushing around taking care of patients, most likely they will tell you that they follow the ABC’s!

How to Pass Nursing Priority Questions

To pass both written and clinical tests, we recommend, the following strategies.


First, mnemonics is a proven strategy for prioritizing patient care.

For example, you can create a mnemonic to remember the first three steps of patient care ABC’s:

Aim – Admit – Breath! This is a good strategy during nursing school exams when prioritizing patient care.


Another useful tool for passing all types of questions including exam questions and clinical tests is brainstorming. When confronted with a question, you can start by writing down everything that comes to mind first. Then sort out the list of answers into the order of importance and relevance to the patient’s health concern or situation.

Decision Tree

One last effective strategy is using a decision tree, which is another good tool for realizing priorities when it comes to prioritizing patient care. A decision tree will help you figure out what steps to take first and then second, etc.

Use ABCDE for Precise Patient Prioritization

Some health professionals say ABCDE prioritization will help you remember the steps of nursing assessment as prioritizing patient care.

  • In this case, ABCDE refers to Airway, Breathing, Circulation, Decreased Consciousness, and Evaluation.
  • These steps should be followed in order, starting with the most important health concerns and then moving to the least.
  • Evaluation requires looking at other issues such as bleeding, fractures, rashes or the like.
  • Remember, to check the vitals: Pulse, Heart Rate, Blood Pressure, and Breathing.
  • Next is conducting charting: Checking lab results, writing down the patient’s verbal responses to questions and their family history and such.
  • Lastly drug administering; Should follow the five rights: right person, right medication, right dose, right route, and the right time.

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