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Being patient : exploring experiences of, and responses to, social constructions of patient-hood Turris, Sheila A.


The term "patient" is widely used within public and nursing domains. Arguably, the word is assumed to have common meaning across all disciplines. But is this the case? Does the word-label patient contain implicit assumptions and values? What social, political and professional constructions of patient-hood exist? How do people in the position of patient experience and respond to these images? For example, nursing research confirms that nurses actively construct patients based on such characteristics as income, age, gender and social position and that, on the basis of these and similar criteria, nurses make decisions about the worth of individuals and act, in various ways, on those judgments. While this phenomenon has been well-studied, little work has been done to explore how patients experience and respond to popular constructions of patient-hood. In this study, I sought to shift attention away from the dominant discourse of professional perspectives and toward examination of these issues from an emic view ~ that of patients. Using interpretive description, I invited seven people with varying degrees of experience within the health care system to discuss their experiences while in the position of patient. Through this analysis I offer an expanded understanding of how the role of patient is both experienced and responded to. People in the position of patient experience constant threats to self and to personal integrity. These threats included objectification, invisibility against a background of technology, and a lack of value for individuals' contributions as agents in their own health and illness experiences. The findings of this study point to a need for nurses to cultivate a critical awareness of the impact of technology on both physical and practice environments. In addition, study findings call further attention to the need of people in the position of patient to be known and valued as individuals and as active agents.

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