What Defines a Profession?

Updated on April 29, 2020
Ryan-Clancy profile image

Ryan is a student at Drexel University, studying Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Engineering Leadership.

A doctor is someone who can be called a professional.
A doctor is someone who can be called a professional. | Source

Up until recently, my definition of a profession was the same as the definition of an occupation. To me, they were interchangeable words. A profession was something that a person would do to make a living. Now, I realize that this definition was incomplete, barely scratching the surface of what makes up a profession. While “professions” are more varied than some concepts and/or ideas make it seem, there is more to them than initially meets the eye.

First Steps

A profession details several vital aspects of a job. The first of which is the “professional.” By definition, a professional is just someone who works in a profession. However, in order to be deemed a professional at something, they are typically held to a higher standard than their peers. This is usually the product of a long and extensive education and years of experience in the field. For engineering, a college education is often required to truly become proficient. Similarly, doctors and lawyers are only allowed to enter the occupation after many, many years of schooling. There are exceptions, however. Professional athletes don’t necessarily need as high of a level as schooling, but certainly need years and years of experience playing the sport at an intense level.

The second requirement that must be met in order to be considered a professional is, as Paul Sieghart described it in his address to Session IV of the World Congress on Law and Medicine, a “gross inequality of power.” Professions are based upon that inequality, as one person in the relationship has the necessary skills to complete the task, while the other doesn’t and needs assistance. This is where the second requirement sets a profession apart from any other occupation. That inequality introduces a conflict of interest between the professional and the client. This conflict is the fact that the person with the ability to solve the problem at hand has, of course, a duty to himself. He must make a living, possibly for a family on top of simply himself as well. But now, his profession calls upon him to provide a service to the best of his ability. Why shouldn’t he charge the client what he wants? This fundamental question is what makes a profession different. The “code of ethics” that someone must follow in order to be considered a professional makes sure that they don’t take abuse the power they hold in the situation.

Codes of Ethics

This brings up another point about professions. Most professions have codes of conduct that the employer will hold his employees to. However, these are often made without any form of discipline or punishment for those who “violate” the code. They serve as a point of common ethic and moral value for all those in the field. This argument that “professions” are the jobs with codes are fundamentally flawed when observing practices in the field. Taking a look at the NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers, for example. There are several canons that are too broad and outdated to hold any sway over the current field. Canon 2, “Perform services only in the areas of [an engineer’s] competence,” neglects the fact that many engineers perform research that has not been done before, and therefore cannot be deemed experts in the area. Should this code prevent them from invention and innovation? Canon 4 deems all engineers should “act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees,” but what if an employer asks an engineer to do something he/she disagrees with? Now the engineer is faced with doing something unethical, or risking being in ill favor with their boss.

Many times, engineers do what they have to do in order to keep their job and continue providing for their family, and this can sometimes introduce conflicts of interest. In other fields, actions still prove to outweigh the “codes” that they follow. In the Hippocratic Oath, it states that “I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous” but the medical profession isn’t always completely honest in practice either. Medicine and drugs are named in Latin so that patients wouldn’t know what the drugs do, forcing them to blindly follow the doctors orders. The opioid crisis was arguably caused by doctors taking advantage of patients and prescribing them addictive drugs to make a profit for large companies. Codes do nothing in practice, and since they aren’t used to truly discipline anyone in the field, they should not be considered a necessary trait for a profession.

Engineers fit in our definition of a professional.
Engineers fit in our definition of a professional. | Source

An important argument to consider is integration in the project. If a goal is directly related to an individual, that individual is usually a professional. However, when the objective is related to a company instead, it’s harder to identify anyone directly related to specific aspects. For example, in the event of failure, can the cause be traced back to a person or the company? If it is to an individual, that person can usually be deemed a professional (with exceptions, obviously). However, if the failure is related to a company as a whole, those involved are usually not professionals. This description therefore often excludes those in business and management.

The "Noble Cause"

With these points in mind, the range of jobs that can be considered professions dwindles down. On top of business and management, our description does not include small business owners, entrepreneurs, or the growing industry of YouTuber’s, streamers, and gamers. This still leaves engineers, lawyers, politicians, doctors, teachers, and professional athletes/actors (as well as variants within their respective fields). Looking at these brings to mind another of Sieghart’s requirements. The idea of professions possessing a “noble cause” is extremely prominent with these examples. In the case of engineers, their cause is to advance societies technological world and make it safer. For doctors, it is to keep people healthy, politicians and lawyers are to provide order to society. Teachers educate, athletes and actors entertain. For each profession, they provide something to society that isn’t a single product, but a goal. Each goal is something that makes each and every person’s lives better and safer.

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, toughnickel.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)