Caring: The Essence of the Health-Care Professions

Article excerpt

The assumption is widely held that members of the health-care professions care. Indeed, many, who have sought help from such professionals, report that they have felt nurtured and understood. However, professionals, clients, and others are also expressing a growing concern over a decreased level of caring in the professions.

As is widely recognized, members of the professions have used their positions of authority to take advantage of vulnerable persons who seek their help, and many appear to be serving their own needs instead of those of their clients. Both the professional and lay press describe the delivery of unsuitable or unnecessary services, the withholding or withdrawal of needed services, and the financial, physical, emotional and sexual exploitation of dependent persons. (1) Thus, as a society, we have substantial cause for concern.

To understand this concern and to find ways to enhance caring in the professions, we need first to examine the concept of caring. Scholars such as Leininger, Bevis, and Watson have given clear and meaningful definitions of caring, but their definitions are technical and explain what caring achieves rather than what it is. (2), (3), (4) Roach explains caring by saying that "caring is the human mode of being," (5) that caring is an expression of our humanity. She describes six attributes of professional caring but, because they describe caring as a set of behaviors and skills, they, too, fall short of illuminating the core of this concept. Adding to the definition, Mayeroff describes the interaction between two individuals in a professional relationship. (6) However, deeper thought is needed to capture the meaning of caring; we need a definition that acknowledges the spiritual nature of human beings, because caring is what helps us make sense of life's experiences and to find purpose in life. It is a connection between two human beings that involves a sense of oneness, fulfillment, and growth, and assists each on his/her human journey. According to Hawthorne and Yurkovich, "caring is an act of accepting, enabling and encouraging an individual by honoring his uniqueness, his complexity, his feelings and needs; by believing that each person's life makes a difference; and by helping a person find his voice and be heard."

Caring, then, is a relationship that transcends all other human relationships, and reflects the fact that we share a greater purpose than just serving ourselves in a material universe. Through this relationship, the experiences and lives of both giver and receiver are enriched, and the more caring is expressed, the richer and deeper it becomes.

Caring can be expressed in many different ways. One way is in the professional relationship. One may recall that the first professions -- theology, law, medicine, and nursing -- were described as "person professions," and centered on a counselor/client relationship. Their goal was to help individuals in life crisis, not to produce goods, or gain status and power. (7) However, in a technical society, professions have become depersonalized, and people often are labeled as numbers or codes or diseases. Professional work has become an expression of technology rather than an expression of our humanity.

It is no wonder then that today there is confusion about the true meaning and purpose of "profession." Gone are the days -- so it appears -- when entering a profession was seen as a vocation or calling, in which the primary focus is the relationship between the counselor and client. Today, in order to separate themselves from occupations, the professions define themselves by what they do rather than what they are. They appear to function in systems where the focus is no longer on the client as person but on the outcome to be achieved, problem to be solved, case to be won, or number of hospital beds to be used. As Ashley and O'Rourke point out, professional work is no longer focused on interpersonal communication but on a more efficient use of power. …