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Person-first language: are we practicing what we preach?

Authors Crocker AF, Smith SN

Received 28 September 2017

Accepted for publication 4 December 2018

Published 8 February 2019 Volume 2019:12 Pages 125—129

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/JMDH.S140067

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Amy Norman

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Scott Fraser


Amy F Crocker, Susan N Smith

School of Physical Therapy, University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, TX, USA

Abstract: Person-first language is taught in most health professions programs and mandated by scholarly journals but is often not practiced by health care practitioners. The disconnection between academia and clinical practice is significant. Students and new practitioners are often faced with the challenge of holding to their training or falling in line with the status quo. While the use of person-first language should be the norm in all health care settings, unfortunately, often the opposite is true. The person-first language movement began in 1974. Since that time, the culture of disability has drastically changed. There is greater integration of individuals with a disability and with that integration has come greater understanding and acceptance. Increased community integration has allowed for greater opportunities for advocacy and has also forced a shift in how the community at large views people with a disability. This shift in how individuals with a disability are viewed has resulted in a change in language. A change in semantics is not enough. Health professions educators need to ensure that students understand why this change has taken place and why it is essential. The power language can have not only on patient care but also on patient outcomes is profound and should be understood by both educators and practitioners alike. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the factors surrounding person-first language and its integration into health care, including the difference between what is taught and mandated, and what is practiced.

Keywords: inclusive language, disability language, identity-first language, patient-centered care, person-centered care, health professions education


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