Introduction to Professional Ethics

Study material for the master students

Being a professional

Acquiring a professional role in health care is important from the point of view of ethics. A professional is committed to the principles and aims of the work and is aware of her own limitations and values. The most important questions in acquiring high ethical standards in professional work are: 1) Why is the work being done? 2) What are the necessary components of high quality? and 3) What is the professional attitude? These questions concerning ‘good work’ can be summarized in the 3 E’s: excellence, ethics and engagement.

Another way of looking at the professional working role is to ask what the virtues of a high-grade professional worker are. Virtues mean acquired capabilities that enable excellence in the practice according to its objectives, e.g. wisdom, justice, self control and courage.

Why and how?

Aims, principles and values direct the work, but it is also important to think about its functionality and pragmatic dimensions. How are the aims of the work realized in the best way? And how is this done without neglecting the key principles and values of the work? Pragmatism is not only about finding the best solution for some concrete problem at hand, but also about connecting aims with means. If a certain procedure is fast and efficient, but violates a patient’s autonomy and causes distress, it is not pragmatic, considering not only the immediate task but the idea of producing good care.

It is a common mistake to think that professionalism is based only on personal competence of a worker. The fact is that maintaining a high quality of work requires a lot more. Key factors are continuing education, professional pride and good management. It is also essential that there is a functioning work society and group dynamics with reasonable workload and reasonable resources. Maintaining a high level of professionalism is a matter of cooperation in the work society, but also a responsibility of the management and leaders.

Professional attitude

What is professional attitude? How can you obtain it? Can you choose your attitude, can you change it, or can you develop it? Does your professional attitude change during your career?

Work attitude means continuous evaluations and reactions towards one’s work environment: co-workers, patients, work society, tasks, and more. Building professional attitude can be described as an adjustment process that begins by understanding what it means to be a professional and how a professional should relate and react to her work environment. Health care professionals are in a position which they can use to do good or harm depending on their work attitude. That is why ethical awareness is an integral part of professional attitude and why it is necessary to take time for reflection-on-action.

One key ability in being a professional is a certain degree of value neutrality. This means that the principles that guide the work should be always derived from the main purposes of the work. Any other aims, ideologies, personal values, personal gain or religious beliefs should be omitted from the professional role.