When you choose a particular kind of work, you are selecting a part of the business world that you find attractive and believe would offer the best opportunity for the gainful employment of your unique talents. You are choosing an occupation. For some people, this first choice is sufficient and they follow their chosen occupation for forty to fifty productive years, developing their talents to a fine degree and marketing them for satisfying monetary rewards. Indeed, the standard of living you presently enjoy as a citizen of the United States is largely the result of just such an application of talents.
For many other people, an occupation alone is not sufficient; they want to do more than simply work at a chosen occupation. Some people believe that, in carrying out everyday work activities, service to others becomes more important than personal recognition or the accumulation of wealth. You will find persons with this outlook in all walks of life: the farmers, for instance, who tend the soil so they leave it more productive than they found it; the administrator who insists upon excellence in working conditions as well as worker performance; the businessperson who not only markets a quality product but also backs its performance with a personal guarantee of service. Such persons have deep personal commitments to the well-being of humanity and believe strongly in their personal responsibility to serve this commitment. This kind of personal outlook is a basic attitude required of those who enter theology, law, medicine, architecture, engineering, education, urban planning, and other disciplines devoted to the service of humanity. Such disciplines are called the professions. Their hallmark is basic concern for people-their health, safety, and general welfare. This ideal is popularly referred to as "protection of the public interest." An appreciation of the obligations and responsibilities that accompany this concern is essential to entering a profession. This chapter examines these obligations and responsibilities because this commitment to the public interest will require that you dedicate yourself to intensive study and practice throughout your formal education and your professional career.
THE PUBLIC INTEREST
All of us have a commitment to the protection of the public interest. That is, each of us as a citizen has a responsibility to uphold the law, to support our public institutions, and to conduct our personal affairs generally in a manner that does not injure our fellow citizens. As members of society, we develop rules of conduct, procedures for settling disputes, and methods for the organizing of our government. Collectively, these systems serve to protect our health, safety, and general welfare.
The professional's responsibility is not only to promote the observance of these laws and procedures as a citizen, but to apply them in daily practice, interpret their intent for other citizens, defend their application where required, and suggest their modification by society when and where it seems appropriate. To exercise this responsibility properly, professionals must have an overriding interest in the welfare of people. For the doctor, this interest exhibits itself in a concern for the health and physical well-being of the community; for the lawyer, in a concern for law and justice equally applicable and available to all; for the architect, in a concern for a functional, safe, and pleasing physical environment.
But the professional does not act alone in discharging these responsibilities. The professional depends upon others-clients- to present problems that require the exercise of the professional's judgment based upon previous training and experience. This is how the professional earns a fee. Characteristically then, the professional stands somewhere between the client's interest and the public interest and has a responsibility to see a way that both are served. This is not an easy task. It often requires that the professional frankly advise the client that the problem can't be solved without violating the public interest. Just as often, it will require that the professional vigorously defend the client's position and advocate a modification of a popularly held attitude or belief, or a change in the application of a public rule or regulation. Frequently, then, the professional will advise a client to take a certain action based upon moral and technical issues that may have little or nothing to do with the amount of the fee, the client's profit, or any other monetary issues involved.
REQUIREMENTS OF THE PROFESSION
To prepare for such a career, you will be required to undertake formal schooling ranging from five to seven years in an accredited professional school, serve an apprenticeship after graduation, and pass an examination for licensure administered by your state of residence. Upon entering practice, you will be expected to uphold and defend both the rules and regulations established by the public to govern the practice of your profession and certain other codes of ethics or standards of practice developed by your peers to guide you in the exercise of your professional responsibilities.
Maintaining these rules and regulations will remain your responsibility throughout your professional career. Furthermore, the technical advancements and refinements in your field of interest after you graduate will undoubtedly require that you periodically return to the classroom for refresher courses in certain techniques. Indeed, depending on your special interests, you may return to school many times over several years of practice and thereby earn an advanced degree or two in highly specialized fields.
The demands made upon students and practitioners of any profession should not be minimized. The periods of study, internship, and licensure noted above are intensive, and similar burdens continue throughout the professional's career. Moreover, professional study is comparatively expensive, and the beginning income of many professionals is often below that of the average college graduate.
There are rewards, of course, and they are intrinsic as well as material: the satisfaction of exercising personal independent judgment in solving another's problems; the joy of creating and successfully executing such solutions; the appreciation of clients and a public satisfactorily served; the recognition that results from professional success.