Many of us may remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from a psychology class or professional development course. His model is one way of looking at what motivates us as we move through life. At the very foundation, we have our basic physiological needs: air, water, food, shelter, sleep, and clothing. We then require safety and health before we can progress to love and belonging, then self-esteem, and finally we achieve self-actualization. At the very top of the hierarchy, we strive to become the best we can be–a state of being that includes creative problem-solving. We recognize now that we do not progress upwards through this hierarchy in a rigid fashion but move up and down through the levels of the pyramid.
Today, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we no longer take for granted our most basic needs: safe shelter, groceries, and adequate supplies of water and toilet paper! Providing clinical care in a world where social distancing has become essential, we think about our own physical health and safety: what personal protective equipment (PPE) do we need in order to maintain safety for our patients, ourselves, and others in our lives? We may also be looking for ways to maintain our sense of belonging, and our connectedness to others. In grappling with these challenges, we test our capacity to be self-reflective and creative.
Messages to engage in mindfulness, to take a deep breath, or to seek counseling can feel disingenuous when we are spending most of our mental and physical energy just trying to meet our basic needs. However, it’s particularly at times like these when we should be more deliberate about our psychological needs. If we understand the hierarchy of needs as overlapping and fluid, not as a rigid ladder, we can recognize the value of “Preventative Psychological Protective Equipment (PPPE).” PPPE can take many forms: taking a walk outside, talking to a friend, or joining a virtual support group.
IU School of Medicine and IU Health are committed to supporting learners, faculty, and staff with the resources it takes to achieve all levels of the hierarchy, physical and psychological. Providing adequate PPE is a top priority but we will also be working to provide team members with the necessary PPPE that will enable us all to be our best selves as we meet the demands of this difficult time.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Jennifer Hartwell, MD
Jennifer Hartwell, MD, is associate dean of wellness for IU School of Medicine and chief wellness officer for IU Health. She is an assistant professor of surgery with expertise in trauma, acute care and surgical clinical care.