We use the word care a lot in health care!

Whether we are talking about health care professionals or  health care organisations, or any other aspects of health care, we are usually much more able to define all the other words we are using: health; professions; organisations than we can care. But care is the action part of the term – that’s the part that its most imporant to be able to describe and to reflect upon.


Here is my definition of care, derived from two sources: the books Liberating Medicine by David Seedhouse, and The Road Less Travelled by M Scott Peck.

Peck describes love as: the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth’. Here he is using the term spiritual in the sense of personal growth.

A little later he adds the observation that ‘If an act is not one of work or of courage than it is not an act of love.There are no exceptions’.

I suggest we can conceive of care as a more widely disseminated, milder form of love. In which case we could consider that care involves acts of work and/or courage in order to nurture personal growth.

Seedhouse explores health in the following way:

Any genuine theory of health will be concerned to identify one or more human potentials which might develop, but which are presently or likely to be blocked. Health work, however it is defined will seek first to discover and then prevent or remove obstacles to the achievement of human potential.

A little later he introduces autonomy as the goal of health care-  removing obstacles to the achievement of autonomy.

I suggest this allows us to see  ‘personal growth’ and ‘health’ in the same terms: progress towards the achievement of potentials; the achievement of autonomy. And that this allows us to use the  Aristotelian word: flourishing.

Combining these definitions we could say that health care involves acts of work and/or courage undertaken with the intention of:

  • enabling the potential of patients
  • enabling the autonomy of patients
  • enabling patients to flourish.

Each may be more relevant ina partiuclar settign but my own preference is:

Care: acts of work and courage to enable the other to flourish



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