Health sociology concerns — Functionalist Approach Essay Example

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Health sociology concerns — Functionalist Approach

The healthcare sector is a complex social institution that is perceived differently by different social groups, sometimes leading to conflicting perceptions of what should be “good health” or “effective healthcare” (Muntaner & Lynch, 1999). An important sociological theory in this regards is the functionalist perspective. It reasons that good health and effective healthcare are crucial for the society to function smoothly (Mooney et al., 2012). It further reasons that for a patient to be “legitimately ill,” he or she must perform the “sick role” to be legitimately sick. The theory also expects the physician-patient relationship to be hierarchical, where the nurse provides or issues instructions, and the patient takes and follows the instruction. For an individual to be “legitimately sick,” he should not be perceived to have caused his own health disorder. Next, a sick person must wish to get well, without which they would be perceived to have faked their illness. Additionally, a sick person is expected to want their illness to be examined by a physician and to follow the physician’s instructions, without which he would not be considered “legitimately sick” (Snow & Soule, 2010: Barry & Yuill, 2008).

I was an intern working a night shift in an Accident and Emergency Department. In one particular incident, a man had come to the hospital when I, alongside two other interns, had worked nearly six hours into the shift. Consistent with the functionalist perspective, we embarked on asking him some questions and recording our observations. The functionalist perspective expects physicians to perform some roles. These include diagnosing the patient, deciding treatment, and assisting the patient to feel better (Snow & Soule, 2010).

The man explained that he felt central chest pain that seemed to spread out to the neck and arms. He further explained that the pain would, however, subside whenever he was seated or resting. I performed ECG, which revealed no acute changes. Again, the pains had subsided. A review of his history revealed he was a smoker. However, what was even perplexing is that he was a popular politician.

When I explained to other interns the history and disease background of the patient, they quickly exclaimed “so what?” I went ahead to discuss the history of the patient with the registrar to ascertain the criteria for admitting him to the hospital. During this time, the registered nurse came in and chipped into the discussion. She too felt that the politician’s story was insignificant, particularly as he had a normal ECG and the chest pains had died down. The registrar advised that the patient be discharged.

However, I argued that it was bizarre for man of his social standing to come to a public hospital past midnight, except for when there was a serious reason for concern. Ultimately, the registrar decided that she would admit the patient to a cardiology ward in an unmonitored bed. During my next night shift, I was unsurprised to learn that the patient had suffered a cardiac arrest after daybreak, as a result of an acute inferior myocardial infarction.

In conclusion, the functionalist perspective would have assisted to take the patient seriously. For an individual to be “legitimately sick,” he should not be perceived to have caused his own health disorder. However, as the politician was a smoker, he had drawn unsympathetic exclamations. Second, as the man wished to get well soon, he should not have been perceived to fake the chest pains. Third, as the man had wished to be examined by the physicians and was willing to follow instructions, he should have been taken seriously.


Barry, A. & Yuill, C. (2008). Understanding the sociology of health: An introduction. New York: SAGE

Mooney, L., Knox, D. & Schacht, C. (2012). Understanding social problems. New York: Cengage Learning

Muntaner, C. & Lynch, J. (1999). Social inequalities and their effect on health and well-being. International Journal of Health Services, 29(1), 59–81

Snow, D. & Soule, S. (2010). A Primer on social movements. W. W. Norton. Retrieved: <>