This topic came up a couple of times recently – once, in a conversation with nurse faculty preparing courses for undergraduate students; the second, during the Keynote Address at the Dermatology Nurses’ Association Convention. The faculty members were questioning which term – patient or client – is appropriate for use in the academic setting. In her Keynote, Everyday Ethics for Nurses in Everyday Practice,
Leah Curtin, ScD(h), RN, FAAN touched on this topic and even dug deeper into the roots of each of the words, encouraging the audience to make their own decisions regarding the appropriateness of each term.
Here’s a closer look at the terms ‘patients’ and ‘clients.’
- Comes from the Latin word, patior, which means ‘to suffer’
- Defined as ‘one who suffers’
- Comes from the Latin word, clinare, which means ‘to lean’
- Defined as ‘one who is the recipient of a professional service’
Based on the word roots and definitions, some may feel that the term ‘patient’ indicates a hierarchical relationship, where the term ‘client’ signifies a more collaborative relationship. It’s interesting then that many authors, clinician and non-clinician, use the terms interchangeably or even simultaneously. For example, “patient or client self-report measures” or “patient/client safety” is often found in the literature. However, we know that the written word is not how we speak and I’ve yet to hear a colleague ask “Is the patient/client NPO?” or say “The patient/client needs a new IV inserted.”
I was surprised during a search on this topic, to find that this is not a new discussion. In a 1997 article
from the Canadian Medical Association, Peter C. Wing, MB, ChB found that use of the term “client” was documented as early as 1970. He also shares results from his survey of 101 people attending an ambulatory back-pain clinic; almost ¾ of those surveyed stated a preference for ‘patient’ rather than ‘client.’
Personally, I can’t imagine referring to a person in my care as a client. It just sounds unnatural to me. Which do you prefer?
For whom do you care – patients or clients?
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Farlex, Inc. (2016, April 8). Retrieved from The Free Medical Dictionary: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/
Wing, P. (1997). Patient or client? If in doubt, ask. Canadian Medical Association, 287-289.