What does it mean to be a virtuous patient?

Virtue from the patient's perspective


  • Alastair V. Campbell University of Bristol
  • Teresa Swift University of Bristol




virtue, ethics, patients, chronic illness, pastoral care


This paper shifts the focus of biomedical ethics away from the dilemmas of doctors and towards patients and their responses to chronic illness. It explores the possible virtues needed to flourish despite ongoing pain and disability. An empirical study, investigating patients' perspectives on the role of character in illness, revealed that patients valued qualities such as courage, realism, self-respect, a sense of humour, hope and the ability to maintain good relationships with others. Such qualities may characterise the "virtuous patient". These findings carry a number of practical implications for the pastoral care of those suffering from chronic illnesses. These include working towards the empowerment of patients, and an appreciation of the healing force of humour and the value of communication, all of which assist patients in their efforts to maintain their self-respect, their sense of a role in their community, and a sense of purpose in their lives.

Author Biographies

Alastair V. Campbell, University of Bristol

Alastair Campbell is Professor of Ethics in medicine and Director of the Centre for Ethics in Medicine at the University of Bristol.

Teresa Swift, University of Bristol

Teresa Swift is Research officer at the Centre for Ethics in Medicine, University of Bristol.


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How to Cite

Campbell, A., & Swift, T. (2013). What does it mean to be a virtuous patient? Virtue from the patient’s perspective. Health and Social Care Chaplaincy, 5(1), 29–35. https://doi.org/10.1558/hscc.v5i1.29