Career Focus

Briefing

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7061.3 (Published 05 October 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:S3-7061

“Do professions have a future?” was the bold question posed at a King's Fund seminar earlier this month. The answer, after five hours of off the record discussion among the great and the good of the British professions, is far from certain. Market forces have undoubtedly played a part in eroding the boundaries between professions but the professions are also rising once more in the emerging market economies of former eastern Europe.

Do new professions represent a challenge to the authority of those already established, or do they merely represent the broader trend towards “the professionalisation of everyone”? Traditional methods of working are changing, and the public demand for greater certainty in performance means that the price of collective autonomy must now be paid by intrusion into the autonomy of the individual professional.

While the medical profession worries about the erosion of its traditional freedoms, nursing seems willing to question whether it is a profession at all. Dilemmas between the quality of training and the need for large numbers of entrants, and between adequate remuneration for its members and the needs of the public purse as a whole keep the nurses' leaders in a state of uncertainty. The only certainty, it seems, is lack of certainty. There was sympathy at the meeting for those who had entered a profession thinking it was one thing, and who have found it has become another, but no suggestion that there was any way back.

Wise professionals will not only embody the traditional professional virtues of skills, ethical standards, and commitment to service, but will have to be light on their feet in responding to the changing demands of society.

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