sick role

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sick role


patient role

sickness viewed as a special status and as the basis of social identity, and distinguished from illness as a biomedical category.

The concept originated from PARSONS’ (1951) discussion of the role of medicine in industrial societies and describes a form of socially sanctioned deviance possessing the following characteristics:

  1. the sick person is exempted from normal social responsibilities;
  2. the sick person cannot be expected to look after himself or herself;
  3. the sick person is expected to desire a return to normality;
  4. the sick person is expected to seek competent professional help.

According to Parsons, being sick interferes with normal social responsibilities and permits exemption from them. Consequently it may sometimes also be a status desired by those unwilling to meet their social obligations. Medicine therefore can be seen as having the function of social control in addition to a therapeutic one. It deters malingerers and promotes an awareness of social obligation among the sick.

Parsons’ formulation has been subjected to much criticism on empirical and theoretical grounds. Nevertheless, the 'sick role’ continues to be used as a sensitizing and organizing concept for empirical studies of interaction in clinical settings by the SOCIOLOGY OF HEALTH AND MEDICINE. See also SYMPTOM ICEBERG, TRIVIAL CONSULTATION.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
Extracted from their private environments, Sybil and Wanda are initially situated within the classical sick role, taking on characteristics of the more technological risk role when their diagnoses turn out to be complicated and they are submitted to a battery of tests.
The criticism that the WTU may create a climate that fosters identification with the sick role is counterintuitive, since the language was purposefully written so the Soldiers would identify themselves as "Warriors in transition." Regardless of intentions, Soldiers learn about the medical disability rating system and the fact that additional diagnoses in their medical record can result in greater financial gain.
(p 265) Szasz suggests that the reason the 'hysteric' takes on the sick role is because:
(1) Today, most experts use it to describe a rare form of factitious disorder in which patients actively seek to assume the sick role to gain attention, sympathy, and comfort from medical personnel.
It should be taken into account in the differential diagnosis in the context of soldiers who are suspected of avoiding military duties by assuming the sick role. In this report, we describe a 23-year-old soldier who presented with avoidance of elbow extension due to a burning pain in the right forearm induced by extension.
Kids are wonderful to care for because they have not learned the 'sick role' and still retain that sense of wonder and anticipation that tomorrow will be better.
The patient may assume the "sick role" and not exert the best effort during the initial assessment.
They consider they are too young to assume 'the sick role' and are not prepared for its sudden onset, neither are their support networks.
Factitious disorder is described in the DSM-IV-TR as an intentional production or feigning of physical or psychological signs or symptoms in which the motivation for the behavior is to assume the sick role. External incentives for the behavior (such as economic gain, avoiding legal responsibility, or improving physical well-being, as in malingering) are absent.
The sick role required of women included unquestioning obedience to doctors and invisibility to the public.
Using Greene and Krueter's definitions, each response choice reflects a different health care motivation including wellness (defined as optimizing health among the self-identified healthy), preventive health (defined as preventing illness among the self-identified healthy), at risk (defined as preventing illness among the currently healthy who are at heightened risk to develop a specific condition), sick role (defined as getting well among those self-perceived as ill with an emphasis on therapist-directed treatment), and self care (defined as getting well among those self-perceived as ill favoring the use of self vs.
But maybe in the ER they can get Tylenol with codeine, which has a resale value, or maybe the headache is connected with family problems, and they can score some points against the other side by taking on the sick role.