Pillars of Professionalism 

Four pillars support professionalism: commitment, integrity, responsibility, and accountability. 


Commitment, according to Humphreys, has these six characteristics. 
The person making the commitment must do so willingly without duress. The person executing the commitment must like what he or she is doing. If commitments are in the form of assignments with little autonomy, it is more likely the commitment may not be there. 
The person responsible must try to meet the commitment, even if help is needed. Because commitments are not assignments, the person who has made the commitment is assumed to have the knowledge, the autonomy to vary steps, and the skills to do the job. Professionals possess these characteristics, plus they have the ability to seek the necessary skills from others to circumvent obstacles that may arise, so more commitment is expected of them. 

There must be agreement on what is to be done, by whom, and when. Professionals entering into a commitment must have advance knowledge of what is to be done and who is likely to do what part. Entering into a commitment without adequate advance knowledge is highly unprofessional. When the work is divided among other professionals, they themselves must make the same commitment for their respective parts and, in this case, commitment for those smaller parts is as important as the commitment for the whole job. If the smaller parts are assigned to nonprofessionals, they are considered assignments, and the commitment must lie with the professional assigning the parts. Such commitment is carried out through supervision of the nonprofessional members of the team. 

The commitment must be openly and publicly stated. Open commitments are transparent and easily correctable if there are problems. Professional commitments must fall within the allocated resources of time, material, and money. If a commitment is public, there are more chances that most of the sourcing, acquisition, distribution, and use of the resources will be transparent, and thus the job is likely to be done more smoothly. 

The commitment must not be made easily. Before entering into a commitment, professionals should do research to make sure that what they are entering into is not a Trojan horse (something or someone intended to defeat or subvert from within). 
Prior to the committed date, if it is clear it cannot be met, advance notice must be given and a new commitment negotiated. It is a sign of responsibility and commitment to have the courage to tell others of shortfalls in parts of the agreement so if there is anything to be done to meet the deadlines, it is done without acrimony. 


Integrity means a state of undivided loyalty to self-belief. It is honesty, uncompromising self value, and incorruptibility. The word “integrity” comes from the Latin word integrates, which means entire, undivided, or whole. To stay undivided in one’s beliefs professionally requires three maxims of integrity: namely, vision, love of what one is doing, and commitment to what one has to do.

Vision. Having vision is the capacity to anticipate and make a plan of action that will circumvent obstacles and maximize benefits. Vision is a sign of good leadership, and professionals who have the initiative, the autonomy, and the authority in the provider–client relationship exemplify leadership. 

Love. Numerous studies have shown that people who love what they do, do it better than those who do it because they have to. In school, children who have a love for a subject perform far better than those who do it because it is a requirement. When people choose professions, they should do so because they have a love for the work. The amount of love put in helps maintain morality in one’s actions because what is being done is no longer chore but a creation, and we all know people love their own creations. 

Commitment. The vision and love applied to the work bonds the individual to whatever he or she is doing until it is done. This is commitment as we defined it earlier. 


Responsibility deals with roles, tasks, and actions and their ensuing consequences. For example, as parents we have an obligation and a duty to bring up our offspring. That is parental responsibility. But responsibility also depends on a person’s value system, which is based on his or her environment and culture.

There are various types of responsibilities, including personal, communal, parental, and professional, and these responsibilities vary depending on the age of the individual and his or her position in society. For example, the responsibilities of a 5-year-old are far different from those of a 40-year-old. Clearly, the responsibilities of a country’s chief executive are different from those of a janitor. When individuals choose a lifestyle implied in a career or a vocation, they choose and must accept the package of responsibilities that go with that lifestyle. 

Responsibilities of a Professional as provider. 

A professional in either a provider–client or a provider–customer relationship plays the role of provider of either a service or a product. This relationship, as we pointed out earlier, is a contract between the two parties. The relationship consists of three major types of responsibilities: service, product, and consequential. 

Service Responsibilities

In order for a professional to provide a service to a client, there must be a contract binding the professional and the client. In this contract, as in any other contract, the professional has specific responsibilities regarding the time of delivery of the service, the quality of the service, and the consequences after the service has been rendered. For example, in the time constraint responsibility, the service must be rendered within an agreed time frame; if not, a new time must be negotiated. In the quality of service responsibility, the service must meet its desired goal as far as the client is concerned, and it must have the expected value. The consequence responsibility involves the safety of the client from harm, both physical and financial, after receiving the service. The provider must take all these responsibilities seriously. 

Product Responsibilities

If the contract between the provider and the client involves a product, the provider has the responsibility to deliver the product agreed upon on time, in good shape and of quality, and to provide documentation for safe use of the product. The provider of the product is responsible for all liabilities that might arise as a result of use of the product. In liability cases, the provider responsibility depends on the contract and the degree of harm.  

Consequential Responsibilities

In a television medical drama episode I watched, an operating room scene showed a female doctor dancing to a reggae tune while operating on a patient and unknowingly sewing the pa- tent up with a surgical metal clip still in the patient’s chest. In the next scene the patient has died and the autopsy shows the metal clip is still in his chest. Before the results of the autopsy, the doctor remembers her error and naturally becomes remorseful, not knowing whether to tell the family right away or wait until the medical report is issued. She knows full well that whatever the case, the family is going to sue her and the hospital, and probably her job at that hospital and her medical career are over. There is remorse on the part of the doctor and anger on the part of the patient’s family, all because one person did not fulfill her responsibilities. Remorse and anger are after-effects of an action gone wrong, in this case a professional service.

Whether a professional has provided a service or a product, there are always after-effects of that action. Oftentimes one is praised for a service well done and the best product ever provided, but there are also times when one is remorseful because a service did not produce what it was intended to or a product did not live up to expectations. In the worst-case scenario, the service or product may cause physical or financial harm to the client. In such cases, one expects liabilities for the service or product, and the professional must accept those consequential responsibilities. In the case of the doctor, the service she provided fell short of what was expected, and she had to face the consequential responsibilities of her actions, which at times not only include the parties involved but may also involve innocent bystanders. 


One way we can define accountability is the obligation to answer for the execution of one’s assigned responsibilities. This process involves the “cycle of setting measurable goals, planning what needs to be done to meet those goals, reporting progress towards goals, evaluating the reports, and using that feedback to make improvements” Accountability involves these three key elements. 

A set of outcome measures that reliably and objectively evaluate performance: 

In every profession, there is a minimum set of measures that every individual in that profession must meet. This set must be carefully selected and those measures must be attainable. However, these measures vary according to the profession and the individual activity to be performed by the professional. For example, in the teaching profession, one of the measures might be the success rate of students when they take standardized examinations. 

A set of performance standards defined in terms of these outcome measures: 

Like outcome measures, performance standards must be carefully chosen and attainable. These standards are also very dependent on the profession, but each profession must have a set of common performance standards for all its members for every type of service or product provided by that profession. For the teaching profession, the standard of output measures may be the passing of standardized examinations at a certain predetermined level. In the law profession, it might be the ability of a judgment to stand on subsequent appeals. Whatever standard measure is chosen, it must be plausible and measurable. 

A set of incentives for meeting the standards and/or penalties for failing to meet them:  

The incentives chosen must be good enough so as not to create undesirable motives. For example, if the incentives are too good, they may force professionals to put the interest of their customers and clients below the interest of attaining the measures. If the incentives are monetary, they may force professionals to put the interest of making money ahead of the services they are supposed to offer. Similarly, the penalties prescribed must not be so harsh that they drive away those who intend to enter the profession. Harsh penalties also tend to make people in the wrong hide their actions and dig in deeper or fear of being discovered.

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