Sick role is a sociological concept that is used to explain the social behavior the society expects from both people who are sick and those who are around them. The concept was brought up by a researcher known as Talcott Parsons in the 1950’s (Kim, 2010, p. 14). Since then, a number of scholars have done research and added to the Parson’s work. People have done research on the concept in the society on both the sick and the people directly in contact with them to get their views. There are also criticisms of Parsons’ sick role theory. This paper will give a deep insight into the theory.
Talcott Parsons described the society as a system that insists on structure and order so that it functions properly (Antikainen & Torres, 2003, p. 121). The structure is therefore broken by people who are sick since they are viewed as not contributing positively towards the functioning of the society. However, different from other deviant individuals who contribute towards social disorder, sick people are not in their position willingly. Parsons then came up with the sick role theory that stated that sick people have both rights and responsibilities which should be adhered to.
Rights of the sick people
- Sick people should be provisionally be exempted from his/her normal roles in the society (Twaddle, 1979, p. 67). The exemption should be directly proportional to the level of sickness i.e. the sicker a person is the more he/she should be relieved off his duties. This is because they may not be able to perform their duties normally or to facilitate recovery from the illness.
- Sick people should not be blamed or held responsible for their state of health. Parson stated that the illness is beyond a person’s ability to control it and it is only by willpower that it is able to be cured.
Duties of a sick person
Even though they have rights, sick people have some responsibilities they are supposed to perform;
- Sick people have a responsibility to try and get better. Their exemption from their normal social roles is to allow them time to seek medical attention.
- Sick people are expected to seek healthcare assistance from the relevant qualified personnel (Twaddle, 1979, p. 25). They are also expected to cooperate with the qualified personnel in the process of trying to seek recovery.
The sick people are expected to fulfill their rights and responsibilities failure to which the protection from blame might be withdrawn and they may lose their rights as well.
Parson based his argument on several themes so as to come up with the sick role theory. First he stated that due to their weak condition, sick people are vulnerable to death and exploitation by other healthy individuals they must therefore have rights to protect them. Secondly, sickness can be used as an excuse to evade social responsibilities. Therefore there are obligations that sick people are expected to perform.
Criticisms of parsons’ sick role theory
- Not all sick people will accept relief from social responsibility (Sociology in perspective, 2000). Some people will not accept dependency and therefore the theory does not apply in all cases.
- The theory assumes ideal doctor and ideal patient roles. This does not apply in all cases. Some situations may not require going to see a doctor to be treated.
- Some sick people may be responsible for their illnesses. For example illnesses responsible for bad lifestyle such as alcoholism.
- The theory does not talk about long-term chronic diseases. Conditions such as diabetes and blindness will require one to be independent.
Relevance to nursing and health care
The sick role theory is important to the field of nursing and health care since it creates awareness to health practitioners on the rights of patients. It goes further and state the limitations of these rights and what are the responsibilities of patients are in taking care of themselves. A health practitioner therefore will be able to know what is expected of him or her while taking care of a patient. This theory creates a boundary for both patients and health practitioners and therefore understanding the theory of the two groups creates a cordial working relationship between the two.
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Kim, H. S. (2010). The nature of theoretical thinking in nursing. New York: Springer Pub. Co.
Sociology in perspective. (2000). S.l.: Heinemann Educational.
Twaddle, A. C. (1979). Sickness behavior and the sick role. Boston, Mass: G.K. Hall.