I have come across the following sentence:

"Medical students today -after Hippocrates- promise to treat the sick, keep patients’ secrets and teach medicine to the next generation."

I have looked up over the internet (including this site) for the difference between (sick) and (patient), and come out with different answers.

Kindly, could you tell me which is the correct interpretation?

A "patient" is a person who is being treated for a medical problem. This meaning A person who is "sick" has a medical problem that is not merely a simple physical condition.

You can be a patient for things other than illness - a broken arm, for example, might make you a patient in the emergency room, but you're not "sick" per second.

A patient is someone who is under the care of a doctor. A person may be nearly recovered from an illness.

Patient tends to refer to the relationship between sick people and their caregivers.

Sick is someone who is suffering from a disease.


A patient can be sick but it is not necessary.

A Patient is a person that go to a medical facility such as a clinic or a hospital. Very often, patients go to these facilities or others just to get an examination as healthy people or just to maintain their "health". So "patient" can be either sick or not sick.


"Sick" is not used as a countable noun: no English speaker (I think) would ever refer to a person as "a sick". (There might be some street-slang I don't know!)

In "treat the sick", "sick" is a nominalised adjective used as a class, like "the rich", "the poor", "the educated", "the religious". These are always plural, and have no singular. If you want to refer to one, you'll need a form like "a sick person".

"A patient" is abit different, because it implies that the person is under some sort of medical care: not all sick people are patients.

Class uses like "the sick" tend to be somewhat vague in their meaning: it is not necessarily clear whether "the sick" is being used to refer only to people who are ill, or also to people who have other medical needs.

  • 1
    Absolutely. Not all sick people are patients, and not all patients are sick. (If I’m just going in for a routine teeth cleaning, I’m still a dental patient.)
    – J.R.
    Mar 25 '18 at 11:59

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