According to the November 2002 issue of Academy for emerging medicine on professionalism and code of conduct for physicians, professionalism is viewed as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.” (p. 1). This definition enlightens us on the existence of a code of conduct that ensures that professionals in a given field are able to observe professionalism, by upholding the qualities and conduct that befits that status. Kelegama and Corea (2004) have also used the words skilled and knowledge while attempting to define the term profession.
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In light of this, Allmendinger and Tewdwr-Jones (2002), while addressing the issue of business continuity planning, defines professionalism as “displaying the character, spirit, methods and skills that exhibit evidence of knowledge and experience in business continuity planning” (p. 89). From a legal point of view, professionalism is about upholding the integrity of one’s profession. This means that a professional has to abide by the rules that govern his/her professional conduct.
During the planning exercise, sound professionalism is necessary from amongst others, a planning officer. In this case, a planning officer is required to act in a manner that is quite ethical (Taylor 1998), from both an individual as well as at the corporate level. In planning, professionalism is about the explorations of the merits of for example, a project in mind vis-à-vis the existing rules or code of conduct that have been established by an approval committee. As such, a planning officer is bound by the code of conduct to act within its confines while approving a plan. He/she must be fully accountable to any unethical behavior that may happen to for example, a development plan in a city that they are in charge of.
Many are the time when we have seen land meant for public development being grabbed by greedy and powerful politicians, and still get the approval from the planning officer. This is a mark of incompetence and misconduct. It not only reflects a lack of professionalism, on the officer in question, but also eroded moral authority and lack of ethics. At some level, all of us endeavour to copy professionalism (Exworthy & Halford 1999); on the other hand, the communities that we are part of are alive to the realisation that not all of us can live up to our aspirations.
Our individual behaviour, and more so when faced with difficult and stressful situations, acts as a mark of our professionalism. At a time when we fail to live up to the ideal behaviour, when we fail to admit the errors that we have committed, or become enlightened out of mistakes that we make, we have in effect, fallen short of professionalism (Wear & Castellani 2000). When a professional such as a lawyer, provides a reckless or false statement as regards the integrity or quality of an officer of the court or judicial systems, this is deemed as a misconduct of the legal profession. This is because as a professional, a lawyer is bound by the rules and regulations of their professional conduct that they are required to adhere to.
Another legal context of professionalism is that once a professional violates a code of conduct, the profession in question may have stipulated rules that seek to discipline or punish such an offender (McConnell 2004). For example, a doctor who procures abortion against the law may be found guilty of malpractice. In addition to having their license of practice revoked, they could also be faced with a fine, or imprisonment. Such rules and regulations exist to maintain order and integrity in the medical profession.
The characteristics of a professional could be viewed as the guiding light to the existence or lack of, a connection between on the one hand, the code of conduct of a professional and on the other hand, the concept that is professionalism. In this case, it is important to note that the orientation of professionals is to act chiefly in the best interests of for example, the community or the public that they offer their services to. As such, professionals usually tend to exhibit self-control of the highest degree as regards their behaviour (Exworthy & Halford 1999, p. 18).
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Furthermore, there is a certain code of ethics that seeks to govern professionals. Such a code of ethics may differ from one profession to another, as Wear and Castellani (2000) have noted. Such a code of ethics may be seen as more of a value statement that the conduct of professionals, with regard to their professionalism, is of high quality. As such, honour, competency and integrity of the members of a certain profession, say, nursing, tend to be governed by the code of ethics to which they subscribe to. At the same time, a code of conduct expresses directly the service orientations principles of a given profession. From a legal perspective, the code of conduct offers protection to for example, the patients that may benefit from the services of a surgeon, in the event that such a surgeon is found guilty of malpractice.
On the other hand, the code of conduct to which doctors subscribe to ensures that they remain committed to their duties, which they must execute in an ethical manner, in a competent manner and with integrity. Professionalism is the criteria used in reference to an individual or a group of who have received extensive training for a given period of time, with the result that they have acquired a dominant intellectual component. As such, professionals tend to exhibit autonomy in what they do (Wear & Castellani 2000, p. 31). Based on their education and training, professionals are best suited to apply their own judgement while assessing the most suitable approach to use when dealing with say, customers, patients, or clients. Thus, professionalism is about sound judgement and autonomy in the execution of one’s duties.
Professionalism is about being dedicated to institutions or services, while at the same time drawing pride from the quality of work that professionals are able to accomplish. Boyask, Boyask and Wilkinson (2004) have noted, “Professionalism conveys the idea of a subject directed power based upon the liberal conceptions of rights, freedom and autonomy. It conveys the idea of power given to the subject and of the subject’s ability to make decisions in the workplace” (p. 2).
Boyask and colleagues (2004) further notes, “No professional, whether doctor, lawyer or teacher, has traditionally wanted to have the terms of their practice and conduct dictated by anyone else but their peers, or determined by groups or structural levers that are outside of their control.” (p. 2). This is a further indication that besides autonomy, professionalism is also characterized by independence (Grace 2008), in which case, such professionals as doctors not only have the choice to work independently, and at the same time charge their clients fees, or alternatively, become part of a larger organization of professionals, such as a hospital.
Acad Emerg Med (2002). Defining and Evaluating Professionalism: A Core Competency for Graduate Emergency Medicine Education. November, Vol 9, No 11.
Allmendinger, P, & Tewdwr-Jones, M, 2002, Planning futures: new directions for planning theory. London: Routledge.
Boyask, D, Boyask, R, & Wilkinson, T. (2004). Pathways to “involved professionalism”: Med Exworthy, M, & Halford, S, Professionals and the New Managerialism in the public Sector. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.
Grace, P, 2008, Nursing ethics and professional responsibility in advanced practice. Sydney: Jones & Bartlett Publishers. Educ, Vol. 9, No. 13. Web.
Kelegama, S, & Corea, G, 2004, Economic policy in Sri Lanka: issues and debates. London: Sage.
McConnell, C. R, 2004, Managing the health care professional. Sydney: Jones & BartlettPublishers.
Taylor, N. M, 1998, Urban planning theory since 1945. London.
Sage Wear D, & Castellani, B. (2000). The development of professionalism: Curriculum matters’, Acad Med, Vol. 75, No. 6, pp. 602-611.