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An Analysis of the Concept of Risk

Jacobs, Linda A. Ph.D., C.R.N.P., A.O.C.N., C.S.

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The meaning of the word “risk” has changed throughout history. Once a neutral term, risk has come to represent a combination of probability and something adverse or dangerous. Phenomena that were previously referred to as hazards, dangers, or uncertainties are now labeled as risks. Although risk touches every aspect of health and human welfare, the dimensions of risk as conceptualized in the fields of epidemiology, nursing science, medical science, and lay health are qualitatively different. Risk has not been examined as a concept in nursing literature or research, although risk and related terms are defined in a few nursing textbooks. Using the evolutionary method of concept analysis, risk is examined as a concept. This analysis was undertaken to define and clarify the concept and dimensions of risk as they relate to risk for disease. A sound understanding of risk as a concept is critical for developing an empirical knowledge base in nursing and directing nursing research examining issues related to risk for developing diseases such as cancer.

Linda A. Jacobs is the Coordinator of the Oncology Advanced Practice Nurse Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Philadelphia.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Linda A. Jacobs, 133 Valley Road, Ardmore, PA 19003-1510.

Accepted for publication May 27, 1999.

© 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.