professional association

A professional association (also called a professional body, professional organization, or professional society) is usually a nonprofit organization seeking to further a particular profession, the interests of individuals engaged in that profession, and the public interest. The roles of these professional associations have been variously defined: “A group of people in a learned occupation who are entrusted with maintaining control or oversight of the legitimate practice of the occupation;” also a body acting “to safeguard the public interest;” organizations which “represent the interest of the professional practitioners,” and so “act to maintain their own privileged and powerful position as a controlling body.” This, in turn, places the burden of enforcing a profession ban upon these associations as well. Such bodies generally strive to achieve a balance between these two often conflicting mandates. Though professional bodies often act to protect the public by maintaining and enforcing standards of training and ethics in their profession, they often also act like a cartel or a labor union (trade union) for the members of the profession, though this description is commonly rejected by the body concerned. Therefore, in certain dispute situations the balance between these two aims may get tipped more in favor of protecting and defending the professionals than in protecting the public. An example can be used to illustrate this. In a dispute between a lawyer and his/her client or between a patient and his/her physician, the Law Society of England and Wales or the General Medical Council will inevitably find itself plunged into a conflict of interest in (a) its wish to defend the interests of the client, while also (b) wishing to defend the interests, status and privileges of the professional. It is clearly a tough call for it do both. Many professional bodies are involved in the development and monitoring of professional educational programs, and the updating of skills, and thus perform professional certification to indicate that a person possesses qualifications in the subject area. Sometimes membership of a professional body is synonymous with certification, though not always. Membership of a professional body, as a legal requirement, can in some professions form the primary formal basis for gaining entry to and setting up practice within the profession; see licensure. Many professional bodies also act as learned societies for the academic disciplines underlying their professions. As a practical matter, most professional organizations of global scope (see List of professional organizations) are located in the United States. The U.S. has often led the transformation of various occupations into professions, a process described in the academic literature as professionalization.

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