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Encyclopedia > Profession

A profession is an occupation, vocation or career where specialized knowledge of a subject, field, or science is applied.[1] It is usually applied to occupations that involve prolonged academic training and a formal qualification. It is axiomatic that "professional activity involves systematic knowledge and proficiency."[2] Professions are usually regulated by professional bodies that may set examinations of competence, act as an licensing authority for practitioners, and enforce adherence to an ethical code of practice. A professional body or professional organization is an organisation, usually non-profit, that exists to further a particular profession, to protect both the public interest and the interests of professionals. ... To examine somebody or something is to inspect it closely, hence an examination is a detailed inspection or analysis of an object or person. ... Licensure refers to the granting of a license (in the US, whilst, elsewhere the term registration is used), usually to work in a particular profession. ... In the context of a code adopted by a profession or by a governmental or quasi-governmental organ to regulate that profession, an ethical code may be styled as a code of professional responsibility, which may dispense with difficult issues of what behavior is ethical. Some codes of ethics are...


Examples of the professions

Professions include, for example: Doctors/Surgeons, Lawyers, Logisticians, Social Workers, Judges, Pharmacists, Environmental Health Officers, Nurses, Police Officers, Military Officers, Professors, Bishops, priests, Dentists, Architects, Computer Systems Engineers, Surveyors, Accountants, and most other specialised technical occupations. "Doctors, nurses, lawyers, psychologists, and public accountants are some examples of professions."[3] "Some occupations that usually would be described as “professions”: dentist...architect, teacher"[4]

Formation of a profession

A profession arises when any trade or occupation transforms itself through "the development of formal qualifications based upon education and examinations, the emergence of regulatory bodies with powers to admit and discipline members, and some degree of monopoly rights."[5]

The process by which a profession arises from a trade or occupation is often termed professionalization and has been described as one, "starting with the establishment of the activity as a full-time occupation, progressing through the establishment of training schools and university links, the formation of a professional organization, and the struggle to gain legal support for exclusion, and culminating with the formation of a formal code of ethics."[6] Professionalization is the social process by which any trade or occupation transforms itself into a true profession. ...


Regulation enforced by statute distinguishes a profession from other occupations represented by trade groups who aspire to professional status for their members.[7]. In all countries, professions have their regulatory or professional bodies, whose function is to define, promote, oversee, support and regulate the affairs of its members. For some professions there may be several such bodies. [8] The Statute of Grand Duchy of Lithuania A statute is a formal, written law of a country or state, written and enacted by its legislative authority, perhaps to then be ratified by the highest executive in the government, and finally published. ... An industry trade group, also known as a trade association, is generally a public relations organization founded and funded by corporations that operate in a specific industry. ...


Professions tend to be autonomous, which means they have a high degree of control of their own affairs: "professionals are autonomous insofar as they can make independent judgments about their work"[9] This usually means "the freedom to exercise their professional judgement."[10] However, it has other meanings. "Professional autonomy is often described as a claim of professionals that has to serve primarily their own interests...this professional autonomy can only be maintained if members of the profession subject their activities and decisions to a critical evaluation by other members of the profession "[11] The concept of autonomy can therefore be seen to embrace not only judgement, but also self-interest and a continuous process of critical evaluation of ethics and procedures from within the profession itself.

Status and prestige

Professions enjoy a high social status, regard and esteem [12] [13] conferred upon them by society. This high esteem arises primarily from the higher social function of their work, which is regarded as vital to society as a whole and thus of having a special and valuable nature. All professions involve technical, specialised and highly skilled work often referred to as "professional expertise." [14] [15] Training for this work involves obtaining degrees and professional qualifications (see Licensure) without which entry to the profession is barred (occupational closure). Training also requires regular updating of skills. (see continuing education) Licensure refers to the granting of a license (in the US, whilst, elsewhere the term registration is used), usually to work in a particular profession. ... Continuing education is an all encompassing term within a broad spectrum of post-secondary learning activities and programs. ...


All professions have power. [16] This power is used to control its own members, and also its area of expertise and interests. A profession tends to dominate, police and protect its area of expertise and the conduct of its members, and exercises a dominating influence over its entire field which means that professions can act monopolist, [17] rebuffing competition from ancillary trades and occupations, as well as subordinating and controlling lesser but related trades. [18] A profession is characterised by the power and high prestige it has in society as a whole. It is the power, prestige and value that society confers upon a profession that more clearly defines it. This is why Judges, Lawyers, Clerics, and Medical personnel enjoy this high social status and are regarded as true professionals.


Jesus and the doctors of the Faith,
by the entourage of Giuseppe Ribera

Classically, there were only three professions: Divinity, Medicine, and Law. [citation needed] The main milestones which mark an occupation being identified as a profession are: Download high resolution version (1879x1321, 480 KB) Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... Download high resolution version (1879x1321, 480 KB) Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... Penitent Saint Peter by Giuseppe Ribera Giuseppe Ribera (January 12, 1591 - 1652) was the name given in Italian to Jusepe (de) Ribera or José (de) Ribera, also called Lo Spagnoletto, or the Little Spaniard, a leading painter of the Neapolitan or partly of the Spanish school, who was born near... Divinity is the academic study of Christian and other theology and religious ministry at a school, divinity school, university, or seminary. ... For the chemical substances known as medicines, see medication. ... For other uses, see Law (disambiguation). ...

  1. It became a full-time occupation;
  2. The first training school was established;
  3. The first university school was established;
  4. The first local association was established;
  5. The first national association was established;
  6. The codes of professional ethics were introduced;
  7. State licencing laws were established.

The ranking of established professions in the United States based on the above milestones shows Medicine first, followed by Law, Dentistry, Civil Engineering, Logistics, Architecture and Accounting. With the rise of technology and occupational specialization in the 19th century, other bodies began to claim professional status: Pharmacy, Logistics, Veterinary Medicine, Nursing, Teaching, Librarianship, Optometry and Social Work, all of which could claim to be professions using these milestones by 1900[19]. Educational institution may refer to: Higher education College Career college Community college Junior college Liberal arts college Residential college Sixth form college Technical college University college Institutes of technology (and Polytechnics) University Corporate universities International university Medieval university Private university Public university University of the Third Age Urban university Vocational... For the community in Florida, see University, Florida. ... A voluntary association (also sometimes called an unincorporated association, or just an association) is a group of individuals who voluntarily enter into an agreement to form a body (or organization) to accomplish a purpose. ... For the chemical substances known as medicines, see medication. ... For other uses, see Law (disambiguation). ... This article is about the dental profession. ... The Falkirk Wheel in Scotland. ... Look up Logistics in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... This article is about building architecture. ... It has been suggested that Accounting scholarship be merged into this article or section. ... For other uses, see Pharmacy (disambiguation). ... Look up Logistics in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Look up veterinarian in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Nursing is a profession focused on assisting individuals, families, and communities in attaining, re-attaining, and maintaining optimal health and functioning. ... In education, teachers are those who teach students or pupils, often a course of study or a practical skill. ... The Librarian, a 1556 painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo A librarian is a person who develops procedures for organizing information and provides services that assist and instruct people in the most efficient ways to identify and access any needed information or information resource (article, book, magazine, etc. ... Optometry (Greek: optos meaning seen or visible and metria meaning measurement) is a health care profession concerned with examination, diagnosis, and treatment of the eyes and related structures and with determination and correction of vision problems using lenses and other optical aids [1]. An optical refractor (also called a foropter... Professional social workers are concerned with social problems, their causes, their solutions and their human impacts. ...

Just as some professions rise in status and power through various stages, so others may decline. This is characterized by the red cloaks of bishops giving way to the black cloaks of lawyers and then to the white cloaks of doctors[20]. With the church having receded in its role in western society, the remaining classical professions (law and medicine) are both noted by many as requiring not just study to enter, but extensive study and accreditation above and beyond simply getting a university degree. [citation needed] Accordingly more recently-formalized disciplines, such as architecture, which now have equally-long periods of study associated with them, and which are becoming considered as their equal.[21] This article is about building architecture. ...

Although professions enjoy high status and public prestige, all professionals do not earn the same high salaries. There are hidden inequalities even within professions.

Gender inequality

Even in the professions well-qualified women do not get the same pay as men. "There is a 15 per cent pay gap between men and women across Europe. The situation is particularly bad in Britain. A report by the Women and Work Commission last year found that women in full-time work are earning 17 per cent less than men on average...significant numbers of women enter professions such as the law and medicine every year. They are increasingly well represented as heads of professional bodies and national arts organisations. Overall, since 1975, the pay gap has narrowed by 12 percentage points."[22]

Although In Britain, "the fulltime gender pay gap has shrunk in the past 30 years, it is still 17%, while for part-time work it is stuck at a shameful 40%....all this is happening when, at school and college, women are outshining men. In the medical and legal professions there has been a 'genderquake,'"[23] which means these professions are gradually becoming female-dominated. Yet their pay continues to lag behind that of their male colleagues.

This situation is by no means limited to Law and Medicine. "Research from the profession's leading body, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), has discovered that there is a 23% pay gap between men and women in senior HR positions. This all the more embarrassing because HR is considered a women's profession....and (although) a professional qualification is a hallmark of equality...in practice, some professionals are better rewarded than others, and that the better rewarded tend to be men. This is not solely because men are more likely to reach the top of their professions. Gender gaps have been found in the starting salaries of newly qualified solicitors. And there are segregated professions, and occupations."[24]

Racial inequality

Equally qualified blacks get paid less than equivalent whites. "the percentage difference in earnings between Blacks and Whites was smallest (5%) in the lowest-paid occupations and greatest in the highest-paid occupations...black dentists and physicians earned 80 cents for every dollar earned by their White colleagues. Black lawyers earned 79 cents for every dollar earned by White lawyers...black men have made inroads into the most highly paid occupations, but once they get there, they find they still don't earn as much as equally qualified White men."[25]

Characteristics of a profession

The list of characteristics that follows is extensive, but does not claim to include every characteristic that has ever been attributed to professions, nor do all of these features apply to every profession:

  1. Skill based on theoretical knowledge: Professionals are assumed to have extensive theoretical knowledge (e.g. medicine, law, scripture or engineering) and to possess skills based on that knowledge that they are able to apply in practice.
  2. Professional association: Professions usually have professional bodies organized by their members, which are intended to enhance the status of their members and have carefully controlled entrance requirements.
  3. Extensive period of education: The most prestigious professions usually require at least three years at university.
  4. Testing of competence: Before being admitted to membership of a professional body, there is usually a requirement to pass prescribed examinations that are based on mainly theoretical knowledge.
  5. Institutional training: In addition to examinations, there is usually a requirement for a long period of institutionalized training where aspiring professionals acquire specified practical experience in some sort of trainee role before being recognized as a full member of a professional body. Continuous upgrading of skills through professional development is also mandatory these days.
  6. Licenced practitioners: Professions seek to establish a register or membership so that only those individuals so licenced are recognized as bona fide.
  7. Work autonomy: Professionals tend to retain control over their work, even when they are employed outside the profession in commercial or public organizations. They have also gained control over their own theoretical knowledge.
  8. Code of professional conduct or ethics: Professional bodies usually have codes of conduct or ethics for their members and disciplinary procedures for those who infringe the rules.
  9. Self-regulation: Professional bodies tend to insist that they should be self-regulating and independent from government. Professions tend to be policed and regulated by senior, respected practitioners and the most highly qualified members of the profession.
  10. Public service and altruism: The earning of fees for services rendered can be defended because they are provided in the public interest, e.g. the work of doctors contributes to public health.
  11. Exclusion, monopoly and legal recognition: Professions tend to exclude those who have not met their requirements and joined the appropriate professional body. This is often termed professional closure, and seeks to bar entry for the unqualified and to sanction or expel incompetent members.
  12. Control of remuneration and advertising: Where levels of remuneration are determined by government, professional bodies are active in negotiating (usually advantageous) remuneration packages for their members. Some professions set standard scale fees, but government advocacy of competition means that these are no longer generally enforced.
  13. High status and rewards: The most successful professions achieve high status, public prestige and rewards for their members. Some of the factors included in this list contribute to such success.
  14. Individual clients: Many professions have individual fee-paying clients. For example, in accountancy, "the profession" usually refers to accountants who have individual and corporate clients, rather than accountants who are employees of organizations.
  15. Middle-class occupations: Traditionally many professions have been viewed as 'respectable' occupations for middle and upper classes.[26].
  16. Male-dominated: The highest status professions tend to be male dominated. For example, the proportion of women in school-teaching has increased as its status has declined, and women are now being admitted to the priesthood while its status has declined relative to other professions. Similar arguments apply to race and class: ethnic groups and working-class people are no less disadvantaged in most professions than they are in society generally[27].
  17. Offer reassurance: Professionals are able to offer reassurance to their clients that although there appear to be problems, everything is normal or being dealt with properly, and this reassurance may be offered rather than solutions to particular problems. For example, sick people may be reassured that they will probably get better in a few days.
  18. Ritual: Church ritual, and the Court procedure are obviously ritualistic.
  19. Legitimacy: Professions have clear legal authority over some activities (e.g. certifying the insane) but are also seen as adding legitimacy to awide range of related activities.
  20. Inaccessible body of knowledge: In some professions, the body of knowledge is relatively inaccessible to the uninitiated. Medicine and law are typically not school subjects and have separate faculties and even separate libraries at universities.
  21. Indeterminacy of knowledge: Professional knowledge contains elements that escape being mastered and communicated in the form of rules and can only be acquired through experience.
  22. Mobility: The skill knowledge and authority of professionals belongs to the professionals as individuals, not the organizations for which they work. Professionals are therefore relatively mobile in employment opportunities as they can move to other employers and take their talents with them. Standardization of professional training and procedures enhances this mobility.[28].

See also

This article is about people called professionals. ... Physicians are among the most commonly used examples of occupations which are part of the professional class. ... Professional development refers to vocational education with specific reference to continuing education of the person undertaking it in the area of employment, it may also provide opportunities for other career paths. ... A professional degree or professional membership is an academic degree designed to prepare the holder for a particular career or profession, fields where scholarly research and academic activity are not the work, but rather a profession such as law, medicine, logistics, optometry, architecture, accounting, engineering, religious ministry, or education. ... Professional responsibility is the area of legal practice that encompasses the duties of attorneys to act in a professional manner, obey the law, avoid conflicts of interest, and put the interests of clients ahead of their own interests. ... Professionalization is the social process by which any trade or occupation transforms itself into a true profession. ...


  • P.J. Corfield, Power and the Professions in Britain, 1700-1850, Routledge, London, 1995
  • Yves Dezalay and David Sugarman, Professional Competition and Professional Power, Routledge, 1995, ISBN 0203977211
  • Eliot Freidson, Professional Powers: A Study of the Institutionalization of Formal Knowledge, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986, ISBN 0-226-26225-1
  • Joseph M. Jacob, Doctors and Rules: A Sociology of Professional Values, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick and London, 1999
  • Jonathan Montgomery, Medicine, Accountability, and Professionalism, 1989


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition (Oxford University Press, 1989)
  2. ^ http://www.ethical-perspectives.be/page.php?LAN=E&FILE=ep_detail&ID=100&TID=909 Asa Kasher, Professional Ethics and Collective Professional Autonomy A Conceptual Analysis, Ethical Perspectives, 12/1 (March - 2005), pp.67-97
  3. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Licensure Licensure
  4. ^ http://www.cs.nott.ac.uk/~nhn/G52GRP/LectureNotes/lecture05-4up.pdf What is a Profession?
  5. ^ Alan Bullock & Stephen Trombley, The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, London: Harper-Collins, 1999, p.689
  6. ^ http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0254/is_4_58/ai_58496769 Jennifer Roberts & Michael Dietrich, Conceptualizing Professionalism: Why Economics Needs Sociology, The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Oct, 1999
  7. ^ Perks, R.W.(1993): Accounting and Society. Chapman & Hall (London); ISBN 0412473305. p.2
  8. ^ http://www.paradigm-redshift.com/busprof.htm List of professional bodies in the UK
  9. ^ Bayles, Michael D. Professional Ethics. Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1981
  10. ^ http://www.wma.net/e/policy/a21.htm The World Medical Association Declaration of Madrid on Professional Autonomy and Self-Regulation, 1987
  11. ^ http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/klu/meta/2000/00000021/00000005/00274496 Hoogland J. & Jochemsen H., Professional Autonomy and the Normative Structure of Medical Practice, Theoretical Medicine, 21.5, September 2000 , pp.457-475
  12. ^ Ron Tinsley & James C Hardy, Faculty Pressures and Professional Self-Esteem: Life in Texas Teacher Education.
  13. ^ http://www.rcpath.org/index.asp?PageID=28 Royal College of Pathologists, The role of the College and benefits of membership, 16 Dec 2005
  14. ^ http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/rsm/hsmr/2004/00000017/00000002/art00004 P C S Lian & A W Laing, The role of professional expertise in the purchasing of health services, Health Services Management Research, 17.2, 1 May 2004 , pp.110-120
  15. ^ http://www.teachingexpertise.com/articles/recognising-professional-expertise-in-science-education-1579 Derek Bell, Recognising professional expertise in science education,
  16. ^ Terence Johnson, Professions and Power, London: Heinemann, 1972
  17. ^ Gerald Larkin, Occupational Monopoly and Modern Medicine, London: Tavistock, 1983
  18. ^ Peter E S Freund, & Meredith B McGuire, Health Illness and the Social Body A Critical Sociology, New Jersey, USA: Prentice Hall, 1995, p.211
  19. ^ Buckley, J.W. & Buckley, M.H. (1974): The Accounting Profession. Melville, Los Angeles. Quoted by Perks, p.4
  20. ^ Zola, I.K. (1977): Healthism and disabling medicalization. Marion Boyars Publishers, New York. Quoted by Perks, p.4
  21. ^ Holm, Ivar (2006). Ideas and Beliefs in Architecture and Industrial design: How attitudes, orientations and underlying assumptions shape the built environment. Oslo School of Architecture and Design. ISBN 8254701741.
  22. ^ http://comment.independent.co.uk/leading_articles/article2296807.ece Bridge the pay gap, it is outdated discrimination, The Independent, 23 February 2007
  23. ^ http://society.guardian.co.uk/comment/column/0,,1643134,00.html Malcolm Dean, "Ending inequality is a work in progress", The Guardian, November 16, 2005
  24. ^ http://jobsadvice.guardian.co.uk/officehours/story/0,,1319028,00.html Bill Saunders, Pay differentials, The Guardian, October 4, 2004.
  25. ^ http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1355/is_12_100/ai_77931191/ Anon, Despite Rising to top Professions, Black Men still don't earn top Pay, Jet, Sept 3, 2001
  26. ^ Perks, p.6-11
  27. ^ Perks, p.11
  28. ^ Perks, pgs. 12-14

  Results from FactBites:
CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Religious Profession (1896 words)
Profession may be considered either as a declaration openly made, or as a state of life publicly embraced.
religious profession that the candidate should be at least sixteen years of age and have passed one year in the novitiate.
Profession made or permitted under duress is null and void; and the Council of Trent passes
Profession - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1036 words)
Historically, the number of professions was limited: members of the clergy, medical doctors, and lawyers held the monopoly on professional status and on professional education, with military officers occasionally recognised as social equals.
Professions are also generally exclusive, which means that laymen are either legally prohibited from or lack the wherewithal to practice the profession.
For example, school teachers often refer to their occupation as a profession, even though it is not exclusive (people teach others outside of the traditional school environment), nor is entrance competitive, nor are they self-regulating (laypeople in state legislatures or on boards of education typically set the rules for and regulate teachers).
  More results at FactBites »



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