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The question of whether nursing constitutes a profession or merely an occupation has been debated frequently but never conclusively answered, owing to the subjective interpretation of word connotations as well as a lack of consensus as to what profession entails. The Random House dictionary defines a profession as “a vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science.” L. Harvey (2004) says that “A profession is a group of people in a learned occupation, the members of which agree to abide by specified rules of conduct when practicing the profession.” Over the years, several researchers have developed specific criteria regarding professions. This paper will focus on the eight criteria established by Dr. Lucie Kelly in 1981, and examine nursing in relation to those criteria.
Kelly's Criteria for Professions
1) The services provided are vital to humanity and the welfare of society.
2) There is a special body of knowledge that is continually enlarged through research.
3) The services involve intellectual activities; individual responsibility (accountability) is a strong feature.
4) Practitioners are educated in institutions of higher learning.
5) Practitioners are relatively independent and control their own policies and activities (autonomy).
6) Practitioners are motivated by service (altruism) and consider their work an important component of their lives.
7) There is a code of ethics to guide the decisions and conduct of practitioners 8) There is an organization (association) that encourage and supports high standards of practice. (Chitty citing Kelly, 2005, p. 171) The first four of Kelly's eight criteria are easily addressed, as there can be no doubt of the vital nature of the services provided by nurses, who are frequently referred to in literature as “the backbone of the healthcare system.” It also cannot be disputed that there exists a large and continually expanding body of knowledge related to nursing. There is a great deal of personal accountability involved in nursing as well. Each day nurses world-wide make decisions within a professional context which have a significant impact on the lives of their patients, as well as colleagues and even administrators. Nurses are required to undergo profession-specific education, as well as to maintain awareness of current research in the field in order to perform their jobs effectively. Likewise, nursing can easily be demonstrated to meet the seventh and eighth of Kelly's criteria. The Code of Ethics for Nurses is well established, and there are several national organizations devoted to maintaining high standards for nurse accreditation, as well as an International Council of Nurses. Autonomy of nurses might be questioned: Do nurses control their own policies and activities? While it is clear that a nurse must make decisions on a daily basis and act on those decisions, nurses are subjected to policies within the confines of their employing institutions. Though nurses frequently execute the orders of doctors, the manner of execution is usually left to individual nurses. Thus, in the opinion of this researcher nursing meets the fifth of Kelly's criteria. The question of motivation is a thornier one. While many individuals choose to enter nursing for altruistic reasons, it seems unreasonable to expect that all nurses share that particular motivation. There is a shortage of nurses world-wide, no doubt leading to many individuals choose this career path because it will provide a secure and reliable source of income. Nurses trained in an accredited program can always find
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