A professional is a member of a
profession A profession is a field of work that has been successfully ''professionalized''. It can be defined as a disciplined group of individuals, '' professionals'', who adhere to ethical standards and who hold themselves out as, and are accepted by ...
or any person who
works Works may refer to: People * Caddy Works (1896–1982), American college sports coach * Samuel Works (c. 1781–1868), New York politician Albums * '' ''Works'' (Pink Floyd album)'', a Pink Floyd album from 1983 * ''Works'', a Gary Burton album ...
in a specified professional activity. The term also describes the standards of education and training that prepare members of the profession with the particular knowledge and skills necessary to perform their specific role within that profession. In addition, most professionals are subject to strict codes of conduct, enshrining rigorous
ethical Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that "involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior".''Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy'' The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns ma ...
moral obligation An obligation is a course of action that someone is required to take, whether legal or moral. Obligations are constraints; they limit freedom. People who are under obligations may choose to freely act under obligations. Obligation exists when ther ...
s. Professional standards of practice and ethics for a particular field are typically agreed upon and maintained through widely recognized
professional associations A professional association (also called a professional body, professional organization, or professional society) usually seeks to further a particular profession, the interests of individuals and organisations engaged in that profession, and th ...
, such as the
IEEE The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is a 501(c)(3) professional association for electronic engineering and electrical engineering (and associated disciplines) with its corporate office in New York City and its operat ...
. Some definitions of "professional" limit this term to those professions that serve some important aspect of public interest and the general good of society.Sullivan, William M. (2nd ed. 2005). ''Work and Integrity: The Crisis and Promise of Professionalism in America''. Jossey Bass.Gardner, Howard and Shulman, Lee S., The Professions in America Today: Crucial but Fragile. Daedalus, Summer 2005. (pgs. 13–14) In some cultures, the term is used as shorthand to describe a particular social stratum of well-educated workers who enjoy considerable
work autonomy Job control is a person's ability to influence what happens in their work environment, in particular to influence matters that are relevant to their personal goals. Job control may include control over work tasks, control over the work pace and phy ...
and who are commonly engaged in creative and intellectually challenging work.Gilbert, D. (1998). ''The American class structure: In an age of growing inequality''. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Press.Beeghley, L. (2004). ''The structure of social stratification in the United States''. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Eichar, D. (1989). ''Occupation and Class Consciousness in America''. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Ehrenreich, B. (1989). ''Fear of falling: The inner life of the middle class''. New York: Harper Perennial.


In narrow usage, not all expertise is considered a profession. Occupations such as skilled construction and maintenance work are more generally thought of as trades or
craft A craft or trade is a pastime or an occupation that requires particular skills and knowledge of skilled work. In a historical sense, particularly the Middle Ages and earlier, the term is usually applied to people occupied in small scale pro ...
s. The completion of an apprenticeship is generally associated with skilled labour, or trades such as carpenter,
electrician An electrician is a tradesperson specializing in electrical wiring of buildings, transmission lines, stationary machines, and related equipment. Electricians may be employed in the installation of new electrical components or the maintenance ...
, mason, painter,
plumber A plumber is a tradesperson who specializes in installing and maintaining systems used for potable (drinking) water, and for sewage and drainage in plumbing systems.
and other similar occupations.


In his study ''The Rise of Professional Society'' historian Harold Perkin characterizes professional society; "Where pre-industrial society was based on passive property in land and industrial society on actively managed capital, professional society is based on human capital created by education and enhanced by strategies of closure, that is, the exclusion of the unqualified." Specifically, it is the management of human capital, and not just specialized skill which Perkin argues is a mark of the professional classes, at one point going so far as to compare it to a modern form of feudalism. Although professional training appears to be ideologically neutral, it may be biased towards those with higher class backgrounds and a formal education. In his 2000 book, ''
Disciplined Minds Jeff Schmidt is a physicist who wrote the 2000 book ''Disciplined Minds'', a critique of the socialization and training of professionals. Termination of employment controversy Schmidt was fired from his job of 19 years as an associate edit ...
: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System that Shapes Their Lives'', Jeff Schmidt observes that qualified professionals are less creative and diverse in their opinions and habits than non-professionals, which he attributes to the subtle indoctrination and filtering which accompanies the process of professional training. His evidence is both qualitative and quantitative, including professional examinations, industry statistics and personal accounts of trainees and professionals. A key theoretical dispute arises from the observation that established professions (e.g. lawyers, medical doctors, architects, civil engineers, surveyors) are subject to strict codes of conduct. Some have thus argued that these codes of conduct, agreed upon and maintained through widely recognized professional associations, are a key element of what constitutes any profession. Others have argued that strict codes of conduct and the
professional associations A professional association (also called a professional body, professional organization, or professional society) usually seeks to further a particular profession, the interests of individuals and organisations engaged in that profession, and th ...
that maintain them are merely a consequence of 'successful' professionalization, rather than an intrinsic element of the definition of professional (ism); this implies that a profession arises from the alignment between a shared purpose (connected to a 'greater good'), a body of knowledge, actual behavior in terms of actions and decisions, and expectations held by societal stakeholders.


The etymology and historical meaning of the term professional is from Middle English, from ''profes'', adjective, having professed one's vows, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin ''professus'', from Latin, past participle of ''profitēri'' to profess, confess, from pro- before + ''fatēri'' to acknowledge; in other senses, from Latin ''professus'', past participle. Thus, as people became more and more specialized in their trade, they began to 'profess' their skill to others, and 'vow' to perform their trade to the highest known standard. With a reputation to uphold, trusted workers of a society who have a specific trade are considered professionals. Ironically, the usage of the word 'profess' declined from the late 1800s to the 1950s, just as the term 'professional' was gaining popularity from 1900 to 2010. Notably, in American English the rise in popularity of the term 'professional' started at the beginning of the 20th century whereas in British English it started in the 1930s and grew fastest in the 1960s and 70s.

Guilds and Licensing practices

The notion of a professional can be traced to medieval European guilds, most of which died off by the middle of the nineteenth century, the exception being the scholars guild, or university. With most guilds formally abolished outside of the realm of academia, establishing exclusivity and standards in a trade (i.e. the successful professionalization of a trade) had to be achieved via other means such as licensing practices, of which might begin as an informal process established by voluntary professional associations, but then eventually become law due to lobbying efforts. Paralleling or soon after the fall of guilds professional associations began to form in Britain and the US. In the US a number of interested parties sought to emulate the model of apprenticeship which European guilds of the Middle Ages had honed to achieve their ends of establishing exclusivity in trades as well as the English concept of a gentleman which had come to be associated with higher income and craftsmanship. Examples are the Lazzaroni who lobbied to create the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and professional associations who lobbied to create the American Medical Association (AMA). According to Miller et al., "Lazzaroni opposed reforms for no apparent reason other than that they were proposed by scientists outside of their tight knit group.". In his seminal work ''The Transformation of American Medicine'' (1982) Paull starr argues that a significant motivation in the development of the AMA was to gain authority over unlicensed practitioners so as to minimize competition among medical practitioners, thereby enhancing the earning power and prestige of medical professionals. The licensing process Starr argues, was unnecessarily prolonged and the costs were artificially enhanced with the specific aim of deterring potential practitioners from entering the field. As noted by Ronald Hamowy on this subject,
"The American Medical Association (AMA) was established as a permanent national organization at Philadelphia in 1847 at a convention attended by some 230 delegates representing more than forty medical societies and twenty-eight schools. From its inception, one of its primary aims was the upgrading of medical education and a concomitant reduction in the number of physicians. Its committee on raising medical standards reported at its first meeting that "the large number of Medical Colleges throughout the country, and the facility with which the degree is obtained, have exerted a most pernicious influence" on the profession. With the object of ameliorating this situation, recommendations were carried calling for a specified minimum preliminary education as a prerequisite for admission to a medical college, a lengthening of the period of study for graduation from a medical school, including compulsory clinical instruction at a hospital prior to the issuance of a diploma, and professional participation in some licensing scheme for physicians. Indeed, so important was the issue of education considered by the AMA that one of its first acts was the establishment of a Committee on Medical Education..." - Ronald Hamowy, ''The Early Development of Medical Licensing Laws in the United States, 1875–1900*''
As technology progressed throughout the twentieth century, the successful professionalization of a given field was increasingly made possible through the idea of specialization. As was the case with guilds who claimed to establish exclusivity in a trade in the name of serving the public good, there are often subtle dichotomies present in the idea professionalizing a field, whether in the name of serving some notion of the public good or as a result of specialization. For example, while defenders of guilds have argued that they allowed markets to function by ensuring quality standards, Sheliah Olgelvic has instead argued that markets of the Middle Ages flourished when guilds were abolished and that there is much evidence to support the notion that individuals prefer a wide variety of products of varying quality and price to being granted protections which they did not ask for, and which artificially constrain consumer options. With regard to modern forms of professional specialization, does specialization which accompanies advances in technology naturally result in exclusivity, or have our licensing systems and laws been artificially engineered with the intention of limiting the number of individuals who reach the point of specialization? In certain cases the want to specialize can have adverse and bias effects on an industry. In his seminal work ''From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America'' (1994) Walter Trattner argues that social workers began to emphasize individualized casework at the expense of alternative methods which utilize holistic methods to address social issues. The granting of degrees through universities in many cases serves as one major component of licensing practices, but there are numerous legal stipulations and in some cases even informal social norms which also act in this capacity. Nevertheless, the university system constitutes one of the last remaining widely spread
guild A guild ( ) is an association of artisans and merchants who oversee the practice of their craft/trade in a particular area. The earliest types of guild formed as organizations of tradesmen belonging to a professional association. They sometimes ...
(or quasi-guild) and continues to serve as an indispensable means for the professionalization of fields of work. While it is true that most guilds disappeared by the middle of the nineteenth century, the scholars guild persisted due to its peripheral standing in an industrialized economy. In the words of Elliot Krause, "The university and scholars' guilds held onto their power over membership, training, and workplace because early capitalism was not interested in it...".

See also

Amateur An amateur () is generally considered a person who pursues an avocation independent from their source of income. Amateurs and their pursuits are also described as popular, informal, autodidacticism, self-taught, user-generated, do it yourself, DI ...
* Centre for the Study of Professions * Organizational culture * Professional boundaries *
Professional services Professional services are occupations in the service sector requiring special training in the arts or sciences. Some professional services, such as architects, accountants, engineers, doctors, and lawyers require the practitioner to hold profe ...
Professional sports In professional sports, as opposed to amateur sports, participants receive payment for their performance. Professionalism in sport has come to the fore through a combination of developments. Mass media and increased leisure have brought larg ...
* Semi-professional


External links

* * {{Authority control Occupations