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Why Do Professions Have Code of Ethics?

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

Every profession has a “code of ethics” of some sort. A code of ethics is a document that outlines the expectations for conduct of the given profession. Codes of ethics help define the mission and purposes of a profession, as well as providing standards, guidelines, or rules that outline the expectations of the professionals who serve under that title. But, why do professions have ethics?

To understand the answer to that question, you need to first define the term “profession”. What distinguishes a profession from a job or career? The most common criteria to recognize a profession include:

  • Meeting a societal need, or having an altruistic goal;

  • Requiring specialized training or education;

  • Interventions and outcomes supported on some type of scientific basis; and

  • Self-regulating.

There is an expectation that a professional group will self-regulate and uphold its own members to standards of practice, otherwise called ethics. The existence of these ethics is necessary to ensure trust from the community in the work that the profession does. To learn more about the basics of professional ethics, click here.

Examples of those in professional practice include doctors, lawyers, physical and occupational therapists, social workers, and many more.

See, professionals have a lot of power over the people, entities, and communities they serve. And, “with great power, comes great responsibility”.

Yes. That is a quote from Stan Lee, often attributed to Uncle Ben in The Amazing Spiderman comics. But, Stan Lee, through Uncle Ben, had an important point for young Peter Parker: Just because you have superpowers doesn’t mean you should get to decide to use those powers for your own personal purposes.

When professionals develop special knowledge and skills that can be used to help others, their ethics require that they DO use them in that way. Codes of ethics are there to set expectations so that professionals do not use their special power for evil, and not good.

If you would like to learn more, here are links to various professional codes of ethics:

As you can see, each professional organization has a specific set of standards to guide them in different situations. Oftentimes, these rules and regulations are established and maintained by an appointed board of directors.

At the end of the day, it’s important that we can trust that each professional group maintains a certain set of ethical standards to benefit the greater good.

For more information and discussion about professional ethics, check out our other blogs and resources.



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