Characteristics of a profession

Characteristics of a profession

There are various theories on how to describe a profession in the literature. One way reflects work undertaken during the 1950s and 1960s which explored professions by identifying common traits and considering the qualities that distinguished a profession from an occupational group (Koehn 1994; Richardson 1999). A profession is described as:

licensed by the state;

a professional organisation which has developed and maintains a code of conduct or standards of practice based on acknowledged ethical principles;

able to discipline members who contravene the code/standards;

having exclusive knowledge and a technical base which is protected by the law;

autonomous in its members’ work;

having members undertaking professional activity which requires them to have responsibilities or duties to those who need assistance;

having responsibilities which are not incumbent on others. By creating evidence of these traits, professions have been able to justify their ability to exercise power within society. As illustrated above, physiotherapy has sought to acquire the traits associated with a profession over time. From its inception in 1894 as an occupational group trained and examined in medical massage, physiotherapy has established a distinctive knowledge and skillbase that was first recognised by a charter in 1920, and more recently by achieving all-graduate entry – which also serves to ensure the maintenance and development of its unique knowledge and skills-base. The responsibilities of professional practice are expressed and regulated through

standards which are regulated by the state. Professionalism defines what is expected of a professional. Becoming an autonomous professional requires an acceptance, often implied, of certain responsibilities, in return for certain privileges. These responsibilities require behaviours and attitudes of individuals in whom professional trust is placed. Professionalism is widely understood to require these attributes (Medical Professionalism

Project 2005 (cited in CSP 2005b); CSP 2011a):

a motivation to deliver a service to others;

adherence to a moral and ethical code of practice;

striving for excellence;

maintaining an awareness of limitations and scope of practice, and a commitment to empowering others (rather than seeking to protect professional knowledge and skills).

However, defining and providing evidence of professionalism is often more complex. A recent research report by the HCPC (2011) considered the concept of professionalism as many fitness to practise cases referred to regulators include professionalism. The report summarised that:

… professionalism has a basis in individual characteristics and values, but is also largely defined by context. Its definition varies with a number of factors, including organizational support, the workplace, the expectations of others, and the specifics of each service user/patient encounter. Regulations provide basic guidance and signposting on what is appropriate and what is unacceptable, but act as a baseline for behaviour, more than a specification…

A profession that fulfils these expectations establishes and maintains credibility with the public and demonstrates its capacity to carry the privileges of professional practice – autonomy and self-regulation. In turn, fulfilment of these expectations demonstrates a profession’s ability to fulfil the parallel responsibilities of professional practice – accountability, transparency and openness. A key element of physiotherapy students’ preparation for practice on qualification is their being supported in developing their understanding of, and engagement with, the responsibilities and privileges that professionalism encapsulates. The concept of professionalism also relates strongly to the role of physiotherapy support workers.

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