Words matter. That’s why I’ve chosen to write a post about the word “care.” If you’re a provider, this word is ubiquitous in your daily work activities. Providers operate in an environment where the word “care” is bandied about so routinely that the implications of the word are often overlooked.
You see, care is both a noun and a verb.
Care, the noun, has been defined as “the activity, skill, or profession of looking after someone who needs help or protection.”
Skilled medical professionals study and practice to obtain their education, training, and certification to deliver care, the noun. Administrators hire them for their professional qualifications and their ability to deliver care, the noun.
Care, the verb, is “to be interested in someone and want them to be well and happy.” The transitive verb care implies an emotional connection that one person feels towards another. Care, the verb, is not something you learn in school. It’s not a requirement for certification.
Therein lies an irony of healthcare: it’s possible to provide care to someone without actually caring about them.
The duality of the meaning of care should represent more than a semantic curiosity for providers, for it offers important insights into how to approach their work most successfully. Here are a few of the implicit dimensions of care that providers ought to understand.
THE DUALITY OF “CARE” FOR PROVIDERS
Action vs. Motivation. Care, the noun, focuses on the actions a caregiver takes to address the needs of a care receiver. A skilled and experienced provider may be described as competent in delivering care. In contrast, care, the verb, tends to focus upon a caregiver’s motivation for action. If genuine concern motivates a provider to act, we may say that the caregiver is not only competent but also truly cares.
Responsibility vs. Relationship. Care, the noun, is oriented towards the caregiver’s responsibility to the care receiver. Such responsibility is paramount in a professional context where money is used to pay for care. In comparison, the orientation of care, the verb, is on the relationship between two people. The subjective value placed on a relationship is what causes one person to really care about another.
Objectification vs. Humanization. When the whole of a caregiving exchange is care, the noun, there is a significant risk of the objectification of the care receiver. Objectified patients feel like they are simply “a number” or “a source of revenue” and that the provider “doesn’t really care” about them. On the other hand, when care, the verb, laces a caregiving exchange, our mutual humanity is brought forth—yielding the benevolent fruits of human connection for both the provider as well as the patient.
Patients pay for care, the noun.
Humans yearn for care, the verb.
Providers that mindfully integrate both definitions of care into their work adhere to professional norms while nurturing human relationships. Their reputation for caring naturally grows as they become known for not only competence but also compassion.