Receiving an education from a professional institution, allows students to gain the knowledge, skill, as well as earn respect as professionals while they embark on their career path (1). Before we can begin to discuss the elements of professionalism, the concept of an agreement between society and the professional must be explored (3). You cannot have one without the other. A professional depicts an individual belonging to a group in society that possesses knowledge and skill not demonstrated by all (2). This expertise then, becomes the linking factor between the profession and society, in that they are built to fulfill each other (3). Here, we will discuss three factors that make this relationship possible, and these are professional identity, professional privilege, and pubic trust.
Firstly, one must develop a professional identity. This can apply to an individual within a profession or can be extrapolated to the profession itself. This identity represents how the pubic and others view the profession or the professional (2). Factors that influence this perceived identity include theories supporting the profession, culture, ethics, intent and the goal of the profession (2). For example, chiropractic has become much more evidence based and no longer regarded as a pseudoscience practice, by gaining support from its numerous theories (2). It is obvious that chiropractic has built a strong and positive identity among other health professions. Chiropractic has maintained its vision and ethical goals through out its development, also remaining distinct from other professions, and dealing with adversity with professionalism (2).
Professional privilege in chiropractic comes with great responsibility. Some of the greatest privileges stem from the profession’s autonomy (2). Under this autonomy, chiropractic has the ability to self regulate, as well as make independent decisions in practice (2). It is a privilege to be a part of a community that shares such vast knowledge and skill, and to be able to educate members of society to aid them in attaining optimal health. Along with this, the responsibility of patient centered care, and the patient’s best interest becomes an entitlement (2). Not only is it a benefit to put the patient’s needs and interests first, but the resulting trust gained from the patient (and society) becomes even more valuable (2). Ultimately, being a professional can project characteristics of authority and power, however it is in the best interest of the profession that its colleague’s not abuse this power, and not lose sight of the fundamental goal; patient health (3).
Ultimately, public trust occurs naturally if the public views the profession in a positive light, and if the privileges that accompany the profession are not exploited (2). Patients are the most important members of the public, as they are the individuals receiving chiropractic services. Like consumers, patients expect a certain level of quality from professionals, pertaining to the quality of care they receive, competency of the doctor, morals, integrity, and altruism (3). Public trust is instilled in people who demonstrate strong leadership and teamwork skills, thus it is an essential element while building a strong doctor-patient relationship (1).
Another dimension of professionalism include the ethics and morals of the profession as displayed to the public by the professional. This becomes the test to evaluate the effectiveness of the extensive professional training received from years of education (3). Professionalism is based on the ethics taught in institution, and the example set by peers and instructors (1). Here, ethics becomes the principles on which the occupation is based, and this has profound influence on how the professional should, or has been taught to behave (2). Morals, on the other hand, are standards set by the individual, which pertain to what they believe is acceptable behaviour.
In conclusion, it is evident that professionalism is fabricated by many components, and it begins the moment students enter a professional institution. It is established through education, experiences and reflexion of those experiences (1). Ultimately, as students, we need to have an ideal of the type of professionalism we wish to manifest, and to do this we must explore the ethical principles learned in institution, and incorporate those into our personal morals. A goal as students is to establish an identity, learn of the privileges associated with the responsibility of being a professional, and learn strategies to gain public trust.
1)Cox M, Irby D, Stern D, Papadakis M. The Developing Physician – Becoming a Professional. New England Journal of Medicine. 2006:355(17):1794-1799.
2)Haldeman S. Principles and practice of chiropractic. Norwalk, Conn.: Appleton & Lange; 1992.
3) Professionalism and Medicine's Social Contract with Society, Sylvia R. Cruess, MD, and Richard L. Cruess, MD http://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/2004/04/msoc1-0404.html