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Vern Bullough – As a professional, I don’t have to talk to humans unless I want to.

February 8, 2015

“It seems obvious that professional status for the individual is achieved only after long training, ordinarily in a manner prescribed by the profession itself, and that this training is enforced by the state or other outside agencies. Such long training is assumed to be necessary in order to learn the science and technique essential to the practice of the profession. It should be equally obvious that such training is also designed to eliminate a good portion of the population from infringing on professional rights or from attempting to enter into the area of professionals’ competence. One of the chief purposes of such training is to initiate the candidate into a set of professional attitudes and controls, to give him a professional conscience, and to develop a feeling of group solidarity. A profession thus claims and aims to become a moral unit. When an occupation develops its own institutions for control of the occupation, and protection of its prerogatives, it is also likely to develop a culture, an etiquette and a group solidarity. This etiquette may be more or less incomprehensible to the outside world, sometimes in fact the more incomprehensible it is, the more professional an organization is regarded. …

One of the major criteria for an occupation being classified as a profession is the difficulty an outsider has in deciding what is success or failure or what constitutes satisfactory performance. Who can say what success or failure is in medicine? The colleague-group alone fully understands the technical contingencies, and thus it can argue that it should be given the sole right to say when a mistake has been made. The layman, it is usually contended, cannot fully understand the contingencies and thus can make no decision. This attitude sometimes leads to complete silence concerning mistakes of a member of the colleague group since the very discussion of possible mistakes before a larger audience might imply the right of the layman to make a judgement; it is this right to make the judgment which is most jealously guarded by the professional.”

(from The Development of Medicine as a Profession [1966])


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