Defining the Professional Health Care Practitioner


Health care which is defined as the prevention and treatment of the various ailments and injuries that affect man’s physical and mental well being plays a very significant role in modern society. For this reason, all nations across the globe have invested heavily in the health sectors of their countries in a bid to ensure that all citizens have access to quality health care. Some of the key players in health care provision include doctors, surgeons, nurses and paramedics who all play varied but very important roles in health care provision. The contribution that all this members make cannot be overstated and governments have made considerable investments to ensure that adequate human resource in all this areas is available.

Owing to the crucial tasks that health care practitioners play in the society, it is important that high levels of professionalism be exhibited by all players in the health care setting. This paper shall set out to expound on what it means for a health care practitioner to act professionally. To this end, the definition of professionalism in the health industry context shall be given and an explanation of what it what it means to provide quality care and service within a safe, ethical and legal context. This paper shall also identify mechanisms by which human service delivery behaviours are monitored, and how they may contribute to quality improvement mechanisms.

Professionalism in Health Care

The human resource in the health industry consists of “professionals who are science driven, technically skilled and caring” (Zerwekh & Claborn, 2009). The health care profession more than any other discipline is concerned with issues of professional values and behaviours since professionalism results in better care which might translate to improved health for the patient or even prolonged life. Key to this is the ability of the various multidiscipline personnel who work as health care providers working in harmony by ensuring that they are distinctive professionals, and therefore providing more effective services across the primary health care setting.

Regardless of the specific role that health care providers play, there are a number of uniform attributes that mark out a professional. The first measure is that a professional should be well versed with the clinical judgment inherent in the processes of assessment, diagnosis, prescription and evaluation. Also, he/she should possess knowledge that is the basis of assessment of need and the determinant of what action should be taken to meet the need. The professional should take personal accountability for all decisions made and actions taken, including the decision to delegate to others. And finally, a professional should have a structured relationship between themselves and the patient which incorporates professional regulations and code of ethics within a statutory framework.

In addition to this, there are behaviours that are inherent in the professional medical practitioner. One of these behaviours is dependability which means that the health and human service professional is expected to be on time and responsible in carrying out their duties to completion. Meeting deadlines and adhering to schedules. Professional presentation which entails presenting yourself in a way that is appropriate and accepted by peers and clients is another sign of professionalism (Kasar & Clark, 2000). The quality and efficiency of services provided by a health care giver are also a factor of their professionalism. As a professional, the health and human service worker is expected to be highly organized leading to his/her services being highly assessed by patients and colleagues as a result of this organization.

Professionalism also calls for cooperation among individual professionals. In the health industry, cooperation is mandatory since health care professionals are often required to work in interdisciplinary collaborative environments. For this reason, interprofessional collaboration is necessary for better patient-centered care to be achieved. Dumont (2010) asserts that nurses and other medical professionals should be taught skills that “involve knowledge of the various professions and the needs of patients and their close relatives, as well as the competencies and attitudes that foster collaboration between professionals”. It is only by gaining interprofessional education that stipulates professional roles and responsibilities that health care givers can perform optimally in the field.

Acting in a professional manner can help health care workers to overcome some of the problems that are inherent in their field. This is especially true for nurses who are among the professional group mostly likely to report very high levels of workplace stress (McVicar, 2003). This is because the nursing profession requires a high level of skills, team working and a high input of “emotional labour” (McVicar, 2003). Emotional labour stems from the holistic approach taken by nurses which requires nurses to develop a relationship with their patients as opposed to distancing themselves from the emotional needs of patients.

Zerwekh and Claborn (2009) suggest that professionalism which invariably leads to the reduction in interprofessional and extraprofessional conflict could to a large degree reduce the stress that is inherent in the medical field. It is important to note that while professional behaviour may come naturally to someone, this is not common and for most professionals, the behaviour must be nurtured and developed through conscious effort.

Professional Ethics

Professional ethics are the principles and norms of proper professional conduct that are upheld by the health care professionals. This ethics are stipulated by professional bodies e.g. the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Council which endorses the international codes of ethics for nurses, the Australian Medical Council which stipulates codes of conduct for doctors, and the Dietitians Association of Australia which endorses professional conduct for dietitians.

Such bodies, state the expected behavior which should be exhibited by the health and human service professional. Fundamental responsibilities are outlined and across the health care setting, the code for respect for all and upholding of the sacred right to life is core. Johnstone (2008) reasserts the fact that professional ethics require practitioners to protects and promote the interests and wellbeing of the people in their care. This is in accordance to general code of ethics in health care which place great value in quality health care and refrain from providing services that are deemed as below standard and therefore unacceptable.

While handling patients, situations arise that require the health and human service professional to make a decision and the decision taken may be from an ethical viewpoint or from a legal one. Legal issues pertain to the laws of the land by which a health and human service professional must abide by. Zerwekh and Claborn (2006) reaffirm that laws emanate from the society’s ethics and moral values which are documented.

Of particular significance is that laws are enforceable through the judicial branch and as such there may be repercussions for violating the same. On the other hand, ethics include moral obligations or principles that are held by the professional. Ethics may be categorized as personal and professional. Personal ethics relate to an individual’s principles and may be a product of ones upbringing, cultural background or religious believes.

While at times both of the legal and ethical perspectives may be in sync, there are times when they appear contradictory and as such it is the health care professional’s prerogative to choose which viewpoint to lay more emphasis on. Johnstone (2008) suggests that that while some health and human service professionals might be inclined to view legal frameworks as inconveniences in their operations, these legalities do serve the best interests of both the patient and the medical practitioner. This is especially the case when the professional is in a dilemma and has no other justification for his/her actions. A legally prescribed action may act as a default. Despite the seemingly upper hand that the law seems to hold over ethics legal issues are not always given preference over ethical issues.

In the general health care field, the interconnection between legal and ethical issues cannot be overplayed. This is because they affect each other and actively contribute to the actions which a health and human service professional undertakes in a given scenario. Professionals must adhere to the legal requirements which affirm the commonly held opinion that all health practitioners should do all that is possible for the good of their patients. Legal requirements vary from place to place and as Nemie (2009) observes, practices such as active measures to cut short the life of a terminally ill patient are forbidden in Malaysia while the same practice is acceptable in Holland.

Considering the professional manner in which health and human service personnel are expected to act, it may be argued that personal ethics should only play a secondary role in the decision making process since they sometimes hold no scientific backing. However, total disregard for ones belief system may lead to psychological disturbances and hence greatly affecting the productivity of the professional (Nemie, 2009).

Principles of Operation in the Medical Framework

There exist four principles that serve as a framework when dealing with medical ethics issues in any clinical settings. They act as guidelines and act as a basis from which judgments can be made. The first principle is that of Respect for autonomy dictates that the decisions made by a person should be independent of any influence by the health and human service professional and should be respected. Nemie (2009) acknowledges that while this principle is upheld in western countries, it is not as valued in developing nations. The principle of beneficence states that treatment should be balanced against the risks and costs.

The medical practitioner should endeavor to act in a manner that is beneficial to the patient. This principle stipulates that the patients best interests must be foremost in the mind of the health practitioner and failure to adhere to this may lead to legal repercussions.

Non maleficence implies the avoiding of causing harm by the healthcare professional to the patient. This principle is in accordance with the fundamental responsibilities of the health and human service professional which include their role as restorers of health. While it is noted that most treatment involve some harm and risk for the patient, this should never outweigh the benefits. The last principle is that of Justice. This calls for the respect of justice and is practiced by the fair sharing of benefits, following of the laws of the land. Medical professionals should “work actively to eliminate discrimination in healthcare, whether based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, or any other social category” (Annals of Internal Medicine, 2002)

Monitoring Professional Behaviour

To ensure that things are run in the right manner, most health providers have controls established to ensure that things are going in the right direction. These controls include standardized steps for structured processes that health and human service professionals perform. By sticking to such set procedures, quality in service provision is ensured therefore benefiting the patient. One of the tools which are used for monitoring is the client chart.

Kasar and Clark (2000) declare that this tool provides the basis for evaluating the quality of care that is administered to the patient. It acts as a baseline for reviewing the health care services to the client. By use of such tools, professionalism can be assessed and amendments demanded if necessary. Best practices can also be established and followed by the health and human service professionals.

By following the code of conduct and professional ethics stipulated by the various health care professional bodies, the health and human service professional can act in a professional and manner. However, owing to the variance in ethical interpretation by individual practitioners, it is impossible to come up with a conclusive set of standards to be followed stipulating all the relevant laws and ethical issues. The standards only act to serve as guidelines and best practices for the practitioners (Mathieson, 2006).


This paper set out to expound on what it means for health and human service professionals to act professionally. This was achieved through giving the attributes and behaviours that make up a professional. The paper has also discussed the various legal and ethical aspects that a health service professional should be adept to. From the discussions presented herein, it is evident that professionalism is not only desirable but mandatory for optimal health care provision. This paper has also mentioned and given a brief overview of existing ethical theories and principles that health and human service professionals adhere to.

By adopting the professional manner stipulated in this paper, health care practitioners can provide better services to patients therefore fulfilling one of their core obligations of assisting individuals to achieve health and recovery.


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Dumont, S. (2010). Implementing an Interfaculty Series of Courses on Interprofessional Collaboration in Prelicensure Health Science Curriculums. Education for Health, Volume 23, issue 1.

Johnstone, M. (2008). Questioning Nursing Ethics (Ethics & Legal). Australian Nursing Journal. Vol 15. p. 19.

Kasar, J. & Clark, N. E. (2000). Developing Professional Behaviors. Slack Incorporated.

Mathieson, F. (2006). Examining the Law and Ethics Surrounding Palliative Care. Primary Health Care, Vol 16 no 4.

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