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Defining Professionalism

Virginia Niebuhr, PhD

Definitions of professionalism are surprisingly circuitous. Webster defines 'professionalism' as follows:

the conduct, aims, or qualities
that characterize or mark
a profession or a professional person

and 'professional' as this:

a: of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession
b: engaged in one of the learned professions
c: (i): characterized by or conforming to the
technical or ethical standards of a profession ,
(ii): exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and
generally businesslike manner in the workplace

This is generally unsatisfying - to say that professionalism is the mark of a professional person, and that professional means to be courteous and businesslike.

You are likely saying "surely someone can define professionalism better than Webster." I challenge you to find that definition. More importantly, I challenge you to take a minute and reflect on what you think the term means. Go ahead, take a moment, and a pencil, and try writing down a definition. I suspect your definition may be as good as many.